Between the Lines: Bush May Have Won, But Tuesday's Results Contain No Mandate for Illegal-Alien Amnesties

By Mark Krikorian on November 5, 2004

National Review Online, November 5, 2004

I'm quite sure the White House isn't thinking about immigration right now. But before rolling out its agenda for next year, the administration would do well to examine Tuesday's results, and recognize that they contain no mandate for the president's guestworker-amnesty plan.

The 109th Congress will likely be more favorable toward tough immigration control than the 108th. In all of the notable congressional races, the winner is as good as or better than his predecessor, according to the grades from Americans for Better Immigration - a low-immigration, pro-law-enforcement group. In Texas, Pete Sessions (A+) stays and Martin Frost (D-) goes. Republicans in Oklahoma traded Don Nickles (D+) for Tom Coburn (B+, based on his former tenure in the House). North Carolina also traded up, replacing John Edwards (D) with Richard Burr (B). Thune wasn't very good on immigration while in the House (C+), but he replaces Daschle's D-. DeMint (B), Isakson (B-), and Vitter (B) all replace senators with comparable grades, while Campbell (D+), Fitzgerald (D+), and Graham (F) were so bad, their replacements can't be much worse.

Notably, the first issue ads in the Thune-Daschle and Sessions-Frost races were run last spring by a coalition of immigration-reduction groups, targeting the Democratic incumbents' support for illegal-alien amnesties, and causing squeals of outrage from Tuesday's losers.

Tom Tancredo, leader of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus and thorn in the side of the open-borders elements in the administration, easily beat the toughest opponent he's faced in years. He won 60 percent of the vote in his Colorado district - despite a wave of money for his opponent from immigration lawyers, and despite the efforts of a 527 group funded by three multimillionaire Democrats.

In its first electoral test, Tancredo's new immigration-control PAC - Team America - won half the races it supported, quite an accomplishment for a start-up organization.

Also, every member of Tancredo's Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus seeking reelection won, and Tancredo's staff expects the caucus to grow even larger in the next Congress. Also returning in January will be John Hostettler of Indiana, the steadfast chairman of the House immigration subcommittee.

Another good sign was the result in the 26th District of California. David Dreier had been the target of a "Fire Dreier" campaign by two popular radio talk-show hosts seeking to stiffen the spines of lawmakers on immigration (with a career grade of B- on immigration, Dreier was "voted off the island" by the program's listeners for being insufficiently tough on the issue). Though he dodged the bullet and won reelection, he had his smallest victory margin in 24 years, and the smallest margin of any incumbent in California this time around. His opponent - a lesbian environmentalist - did as well as she did in this Republican district because she boarded the Fire Dreier train and ran as one of the nation's few pro-immigration-control Democrats. Dreier appears to have gotten the message; shortly after the Fire Dreier campaign started on the radio, he introduced an uncharacteristically potent immigration measure. Dreier is now a sure vote for future immigration-control legislation.

And on the state level, the Arizona anti-illegal-immigration initiative (requiring proof of eligibility to vote or receive state services) has won handily. Proposition 200 ran even with the president and was widely supported - 47 percent of Hispanics voted for it, plus 42 percent of Democrats, 55 percent of Catholics, and 66 percent of "other" (mainly American Indians). And this was despite (or perhaps because of) monolithic opposition to the ballot measure from politicians of both parties, as well as Big Media, Big Labor, Big Business, and Big Religion. The voters of Arizona sent a clear message that they want something done about the immigration mess in their backyards.

And, lastly, the White House needs to correctly decipher the Hispanic vote. The exit polling by Edison Media Research showed Bush winning 44 percent of the Hispanic vote, a historic high for a Republican, if true. However, this appears to be as suspect as the other results from Tuesday's exit polling, which projected a Kerry victory. Exit polling specifically targeted at Hispanics, conducted by the William C. Velazquez Institute, found that a more believable 31.4 percent of Hispanics voted for Bush. This would be a significant decline from 2000.

Because the presidential candidates were in basic agreement about immigration and therefore swept the issue under the rug, there was no sustained national debate and thus no specific message from voters. But the evidence from Tuesday points to wide public support for muscular immigration enforcement, and little stomach in Congress for any kind of amnesty. The president should reserve his newfound political capital for fights he has a chance of winning (like Social Security or tax reform), rather than waste it on a quixotic effort to enact harmful and politically counterproductive immigration measures.

Mark Krikorian is Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies.