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. 

mailto:eduardo.porter@wsj.com