Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean yesterday called border security his party’s top immigration priority for November.
“The first thing we want is tough border control,” he said. “We have to do a much better job on our borders than George Bush has done. And then we can go to the policy disagreements about how to get it done.”
Republicans reacted with surprise to Mr. Dean’s announcement, which puts the DNC chief’s views at odds with those of many Democrats in Congress.
“If Dean means what he says about border enforcement, that would put the Democrats somewhere to the right of President Bush on immigration,” said Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican.
Democrats have suggested that this is their best chance in years to recapture control of Congress. Finessing the immigration issue will require Democrats to walk a tightrope between appealing to Hispanic voters and assuaging the Democrats’ strongest constituency, labor unions—many of whose rank-and-file members view illegal aliens as undermining wages and job security for U.S.-born workers.
“We don’t like guest-worker programs,” said Mr. Dean, a candidate for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. “I don’t like guest-worker programs. I think the president’s guest-worker program is essentially indentured servitude. It doesn’t help the immigrant, and it threatens wages.”
Giving a preview of the kinds of accusations that Republican candidates across the country can expect to face as the elections near, Mr. Dean said: “We want tough and smart immigration reform, we want border control, and if we have to increase the federal protection along the borders, we will.
“Don’t forget—the Republicans have been in power for five years. They’ve had the House and Senate and the White House most of that time. And they have done nothing about immigration.”
Not true, said Mr. King, who represents a district along the Missouri River in western Iowa. He said 200 Democrats voted against a bill passed by the House in December that mandates stronger border security.
“If Dean and his Democrats in the Senate are serious, they could force the president to make a decision to sign or veto an enforcement-only package,” he said. Mr. Bush and several Senate Republicans have sought to tie border enforcement to a guest-worker plan—a program that many of the Republican Party’s conservative supporters sharply criticized.