October 3, 2002

On immigration, Democrats

By: Raul Damas

Raul DamasLast week the Wall Street Journal editorial team took a major step in the debate on immigration reform.

They suggested that there ought to be one.

Immigration is the most important public policy issue that nobody is discussing in any meaningful way.

Sure, there are plenty of postures, declarations, stances and gestures, but little in the way of meaningful and, most importantly, feasible suggestions for getting us out of this mess.

In fact, nobody can even agree on whether or not we are in a mess — a sure sign that we are.

Early in President George W. Bush’s administration, the White House proposed an “amnesty” for illegal Mexican immigrants. But September 11th radically changed the nation’s political landscape, and immigration was one of the issues most altered by the tumultuous events.

Pro-immigration forces in the White House and beyond quietly circled their wagons and decided to wait out the storm. The anti-immigration camp, emboldened by events, jumped on the issue with both feet and haven’t let up since.

The result of this lopsided dynamic is an issue environment in which bombast and hyperbole have replaced any coherent discourse. And after more than a year of this, the country is still faced with the same disturbing set of facts:

There are millions of illegal immigrants living and working in the United States. They are not going anywhere because there is no law enforcement apparatus in place to deport them and the American economy relies on them. There is no clear effort to resolve this void between the law and reality.

So what has filled the void? Dick Gephardt.

Recently the House Minority Leader introduced the illegal immigrant normalization plan the White House would have probably delivered had it not been sidetracked by defending the country from terrorist groups actively pursuing our destruction.

Had this been anything more than a cynically-timed ploy by the Democrats to reverse some of the enormous gains Republicans had made among Hispanic voters, the immigration issue could have been stolen from the GOP just like welfare reform was and Social Security is likely to be.

Instead, it just pointed out how even the clumsy efforts of Democrat half-wits was still better than anything Republicans had done to address the immigration issue.

In the meantime, Dick Gephardt gets to play hero of the Hispanic voter while Republicans continue to have the same two words pop up every time someone mentions immigration: Tom Tancredo.

The Republican Congressman from Colorado is a terrific spokesman for education reform and has lots of meaningful input on the immigration issue as well. Plus his love of the media spotlight makes him a useful tool in the immigration “debate” — only not for the side he thinks.

Instead of making sure his oftentimes reasonable arguments are accurately reported, Tancredo satisfies himself with sensationalizing his stances and allowing Democrats to exaggerate his positions. This makes his ideas appear much more mainstream Republican than they actually are — to his delight, I’m sure.

Tancredo foolishly took the Denver Post’s bait in a recent incident involving an illegal immigrant honor roll student, which was designed to make him seem like an inconsiderate ogre. Soon thereafter he was also characterized as a hypocrite when it was revealed that he’d paid for work on his home that turned out to be performed by illegal immigrants.

But at least Tom Tancredo is saying something about immigration. Where are the pro-immigration Republicans? They are definitely out there, but if they’re not on the evening news, they don’t exist.

I mean, how hard can it be to debate someone who thinks Mexicans are plotting to “reconquer” the Southwest and make it more like Mexico? Take it from me; it’s a challenge for two Hispanics to agree on dinner plans. Several million of us secretly plotting to reclaim a large chunk of the United States, aside from pure flattery, is really just a conspiracy theory on the order of Mossad-controlled airliners on September 11th.

Also behind this foolishness lies a tendency among immigration foes to blame illegal immigrants completely for the current predicament. This is a lot like blaming cocaine — the actual powder — for America’s drug problem. As long as a neighbor’s economy stinks and Americans are willing to purchase its “export,” there is little point in criticizing the product itself.

So, between pure politics and pure posturing there is much room for a reasoned and informed debate on immigration.

The first step might be for Democrats to realize that the country, especially its Hispanic population, deserves a little more leadership and a lot less politics when it comes to immigration. Second, Republicans might want to start using another voice when it speaks about immigration. The media loves Tom Tancredo and the feeling is mutual. Unfortunately, the media aren’t known for having the GOP’s best interests in mind.

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