The Wall Street Journal
December 12, 2003
Politics and Policy Party's Internal Immigration Debate
Is Reignited by Ridge's Comments
By EDUARDO PORTER Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
A deep fissure among Republicans over immigration policy is re-emerging
two years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had silenced calls from the party's
pro-immigrant wing for looser entry rules. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge
reignited the debate earlier this week, ending a long Bush administration silence on the topic,
by saying the government should try to give the millions of illegal immigrants currently
in the country "some kind of legal status some way." Within hours, Colorado
Rep. Tom Tancredo was on CNN blasting his fellow Republican, a moderate who
used to be governor of Pennsylvania. "Ridge is way, way, way out of line here," said
Mr. Tancredo, one of Congress's most outspoken proponents of tougher
citizenship-law enforcement. "The secretary should enforce the law or resign."
Thursday, the White House played down Mr. Ridge's comments in Florida, a
battleground state with a big Hispanic population. Spokesman Scott McClellan
said the remarks hadn't been cleared with the administration, and that no decisions
had been made. "This is a matter that is really under review at this point," he said.
The intensifying infighting could hamper President Bush's re-election campaign.
Looser immigration rules are popular with business backers seeking new low-pay workers,
as well as with libertarians. The change such as the kind Mr. Ridge suggested would appeal
to the rapidly growing Hispanic population Mr. Bush hopes to attract in the November 2004
presidential vote. But social conservatives in the Republican base have long been opposed
to easing immigration policies, and they now invoke homeland security as a new reason for
cracking down. It is a "battle for the soul of the Republican Party with respect to immigrants
and Latinos," said Cecilia Munoz of the National Council for La Raza, a nonpartisan Hispanic
advocacy organization. While talk of loosening immigration restrictions stalled after Sept. 11,
2001, it re-emerged in full force over the summer, when prominent Republicans joined some
top Democrats to sponsor a series of immigration-friendly bills. Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho and
Rep. Chris Cannon of Utah in the House proposed to increase the supply of temporary
Mexican farm workers and provide a path toward legalization for undocumented farmhands.
Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch and Mr. Cannon sponsored a separate measure that
would allow some high-school graduates now in the U.S. unlawfully to legalize their status.
Two Arizona Republicans -- Sen. John McCain and Rep. Jim Kolbe -- sponsored their
own bill creating two new visa classes. One class would offer temporary work visas for
low-skilled laborers, somewhat akin to the H1B visa available for high-end workers like
computer programmers. The other class would offer a three-year work visa for
undocumented immigrants who entered the country before Aug. 1, 2003, a form
of amnesty for people who entered illegally. In addition, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn
advanced a plan to allow employers to sponsor an unlimited number of foreign workers.
"We must recognize that as long as there are jobs available and employers in need of workers,
people will continue to migrate," said Mr. McCain, when he introduced his bill. "Our nation
was built by immigrants, and like those who came hundreds of years ago, this population
represents a significant portion of our work force." Yet even as the pro-immigration
initiatives have piled up, another group of Republicans -- mainly from the party's
conservative wing -- is pushing in the opposite direction, proposing tighter restrictions
on immigration. So far 112 members of the House, 105 of them Republicans, have
co-sponsored the Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal, or "Clear,"
Act, which would make state and local police departments responsible for pursuing
illegal immigration. If passed, it would represent a sharp break from existing practices.
Most local authorities steer away from immigration matters in order to maintain good
community relations. Some governments, such as New York City's, specifically
discourage such enforcement. "My colleagues are telling me we are going to protect
this homeland from people who slip across our border with 2,000 federal agents?"
Georgia Republican Rep. Charlie Norwood, the chief sponsor of the measure, said
when introducing the bill. "It cannot be done." While agreeing that security needs
to be bolstered, Mr. Cannon is critical of the Clear act. It is "an attempt to strengthen
security, and almost everybody wants to do that," he said. "But a few people on that side
want to remove all the illegal immigrants," Mr. Cannon said. Because most undocumented
immigrants are Hispanic, he added, the bill could be considered by Latinos to be "an affront."
"Immigration is great red meat for the right," said Frank Sharry of the National Immigration
Forum, a group supporting immigrants' rights. "There is a depth of feeling on immigration
that isn't accurately gauged by [the Republican] leadership or the White House," Mr. Tancredo
said in an interview before Mr. Ridge's comments on immigration. Mr. Tancredo submitted a bill
last month that imposes a range of new limits, such as boosting money for border patrols
and increasing penalties for violations. The split on Capitol Hill is mirrored among the population.
According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Republicans who
"completely agree" with the need to tighten immigration controls jumped to 54% last month from
38% in 1999, a mood swing prompted by Sept. 11. Among Democrats, the numbers rose as well,
but less significantly: to 45% from 35%. While Republican Party leaders have become
increasingly divided over the matter, Democratic Party officials have become more
unified in support of immigration in recent years. In the past, Democrats were torn
between an immigrant and minority-rights constituency on one side, and organized labor
on the other, which feared competition for jobs. But unions have become more aggressive
at organizing immigrant workers and thus more accepting of them.