National Review Online, May 15, 2006
Senate staffer: "The public is rising up against amnesty!"
White House operative: "Quick, call the National Guard!"
The president will address the nation on immigration tonight and is expected to endorse, among other things, use of the National Guard to help patrol the border.
Why such a dramatic gesture? Is there some new emergency that needs to be addressed with new methods? Has something changed in the situation along the border?
No - but something has changed in the public mood.
In the wake of illegal aliens massing in the streets, waving Mexican flags, singing "Nuestro Himno," and insisting that Americans comply with their list of demands - or else - public attitudes toward immigration are hardening, and beginning to have political consequences.
This is an emergency because the Senate will resume debate on an amnesty bill this week (hence the timing of the president's address), and the consensus is that the amnesty must be approved by the Senate before Memorial Day if it is to reach the president's desk this year.
It's clear that both the White House and the bipartisan amnesty crowd in the Senate think that opposition to their agenda of citizenship for illegals and huge increases in legal immigration is concentrated in a small but vocal minority of yahoos that can be placated with dramatic (but ultimately empty) gestures. Put differently, the thought seems to be that a spoonful of enforcement will help the amnesty go down.
Part of the reason the pro-illegal side thinks this way is that the media have told them so. Most of the media polling on the immigration bills before Congress has been indistinguishable from the push polls conducted by pro-amnesty advocacy groups.
A USA Today/Gallup poll in early April, for instance, offered three choices: deport all illegal immigrants, let illegals remain to work legally for a limited time, or let them remain permanently "but only if they meet certain requirements." Unsurprisingly, the majority of people gave what they understood was supposed to be the right answer.
A Time poll at the end of March was engineered to reach the same conclusion by offering these two options: -(1) Make illegal immigration a crime and not allow anyone who entered the country illegally to work or stay in the United States under any circumstances OR, (2) Allow illegal immigrants to get temporary work visas so the government can track them and allow them to earn permanent residence after six years if they learn English, pay a fine, pay any back taxes, and have no criminal record."
A Clearer Picture
To get a better picture of public preferences, my Center for Immigration Studies commissioned a Zogby poll that described the actual proposals before Congress in neutral terms. We intentionally avoided accurate, but hot-button, terms like "amnesty" and "illegal alien," but made sure to describe the competing approaches fully and accurately.
When put head to head, the House approach ("Trying to reduce the number of illegal immigrants in the country by enforcing immigration laws, and making illegal immigrants go home over time, with no increase in legal immigration") was preferred 2-1 over the Senate approach ("Granting eventual citizenship to illegal immigrants, coupled with a doubling of legal immigration from 1 million to 2 million and increased enforcement of immigration laws"). The 2-1 preference held even when we added the nonexistent third option of "mass deportation and roundups." Preference for the House approach of attrition through enforcement held even among Democrats, Hispanics, Jews, and Liberals, though at lower levels.
Part of the reason for this result is rejection of the jobs-Americans-won't-do canard. When asked about "low-wage jobs that require relatively little education," overwhelming majorities of all groups agreed that "There are plenty of Americans to do such jobs, employers just need to pay higher wages and treat workers better to attract Americans," as opposed to "America needs large numbers of immigrants because there are not enough Americans to fill such jobs."
Likewise, large majorities had little confidence "in the government's ability to screen all of these new applications and weed out terrorists and criminals" - this is important because the president is likely to repeat tonight his claim that amnesty will bring about such a weeding-out.
And finally, hardly anyone believes the central assertion of the anti-enforcement crowd, that "We have made a real effort to enforce our immigration laws and we have failed because we are not allowing in enough immigrants legally," agreeing instead that "Efforts in the past have been grossly inadequate and the government has never really tried to enforce immigration laws."
In the Voting Booth
Polls are fine, but public support for border control doesn't usually make itself felt at the ballot box. But that too appears to be changing.
The Washington suburb of Herndon, Va., has been at the center of a national controversy over a government-sponsored hiring hall for illegal-alien day laborers, with the city council siding with the pro-illegal immigration groups in a 5-2 vote. But in elections earlier this month fought specifically on the immigration issue, the pro-illegal side was wiped out, resulting in a 6-1 majority against the hiring center.
Likewise in Nebraska last week, immigration toppled the favored candidate in the Republican gubernatorial primary, Rep. Tom Osborne, in what was called "one of the most surprising defeats in Nebraska political history." Osborne, whose success as the University of Nebraska football coach made him an icon in the football-mad state (he was once called "Nebraska's God" by one of his hapless political rivals), had never received less than 82 percent of the vote in his congressional races, and was expected to win easily over Gov. Dave Heineman. But that was before Heineman vetoed a bill providing in-state tuition for illegal aliens at state universities, while Osborne approved of the bill. Both Osborne and his campaign manager acknowledged that his support for illegal immigrants was a major reason for his defeat.
And just his weekend, pro-amnesty congressman Chris Cannon was forced into a June 27 primary by a wealthy businessman running on a border-control platform. Cannon (infamous for the comment, "We love immigrants in Utah. And we don't make the distinction very often between legal and illegal") won less than half the votes at a state Republican-party convention where immigration was the top issue.
We don't know exactly what the president will say tonight - but if it involves anything other than enforcement now, with discussion of legalizing illegals deferred until enforcement actually starts working, then the political tremors are likely to continue, and grow.
Mark Krikorian is Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies.