IRVINE, Ca.—Conservatives who see illegal immigration as the next powerful political issue are getting an early test run barely 100 miles from the Mexican border.
Jim Gilchrist, co-founder of the Minuteman Project of armed citizen border patrols that began last fall, has transformed a special congressional election with his call to put U.S. troops along the Mexican border to choke off the human flow.
GOP strategists say the contest is a preview of the potential strength of illegal immigration as a ballot-box issue. They are looking to opposition to illegal immigration as a way to edge out Democrats in 2006, and not just in border states.
“I see immigration as being the welfare reform of this decade,” says Republican pollster Frank Luntz, referring to an issue that united Republicans in the 1990s to the detriment of Democrats.
Gilchrist does not tiptoe around the issue, which is why voter response to him is being watched.
He calls for increasing federal Border Patrol and customs enforcement spending fivefold. He would put tens of thousands of military troops on patrol along the 2,000-mile southern border and deport the more than 11 million people now in this country illegally.