Ariz.-Style Immigration Law Proposed in Calif.; Republican Strategists Channel La Raza

By Jon Feere and Jon Feere on January 29, 2011

California is gearing up for a legislative attempt at discouraging illegal immigration, this time following Arizona's lead. If it becomes law, Assembly Bill 26, or the "Secure Immigration Enforcement Act," will end sanctuary cities, add licensing laws that would discourage businesses from hiring illegal aliens and require use of E-Verify, strengthen the state's human smuggling laws, discourage illegal alien day labor, among other things. As the text of the legislation explains, it is designed to "make attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government agencies in California."

California Assemblyman Tim Donnelly has authored the legislation. There is an additional effort to put the proposal before California voters as a ballot initiative.

The first person to come out against the idea was not some open-borders activist from La Raza, but a Republican strategist who has been advising the California GOP for years. Matt Klink, from Cerrell Associates, called the effort "a total wedge issue that's completely unproductive." The people who usually refer to such efforts as a "wedge issue" are those with a vested interested in open borders and mass immigration, like La Raza's president, Janet Murguia, for example, who has use the same language here, and here.

Klink goes on to explain, "Latino voters should be with the Republicans based on the Republican stance on lower taxes, boosting small business, respect for family values – and this initiative does exactly the opposite."

Here, the strategist conflates "Latino" with "illegal alien," an ignorant or dishonest tactic usually employed by open-borders activists. Honest politicians should make every effort to define each group separately. Voters understand that not all Hispanics are illegal aliens. Voters also understand that illegal aliens come from all corners of the globe. Furthermore, many Hispanic-Americans oppose illegal immigration and rightly find it offensive when activists use the term "Latino" and "illegal alien" interchangeably. Recall that according to a CNN exit poll, 47 percent of Latinos voted in favor of Arizona's Proposition 200.

If California politicians think they can be successful by sounding more like La Raza, they're mistaken. Unfortunately, many Republican politicians in California have bought into the myth that they must support illegal immigration to win elections. They fail to understand that they'll never be able to out-pander California's Democratic politicians on this issue. That leaves a sizeable population of pro-enforcement voters in California who are without a political party that represents their views. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, nearly two out of three California voters (64 percent) say illegal immigrants put a significant strain on the state budget. A recent Pew survey found that 59 percent of Americans support Arizona's S.B. 1070, the model upon which the California legislation is based.

Even if the California GOP doesn't get behind the legislation, it may still be put before the state's voters. And just like in Arizona, where the entire establishment (from Sen. McCain and then-governor Janet Napolitano, to both the Arizona Republican Party and Democratic Party) unsuccessfully campaigned against Proposition 200, the California initiative may also pass. And then what? The California GOP cannot take credit for it, and instead ends up looking like the establishment, and not unlike the California Democratic Party on this issue. This is how political parties lose membership.

Leadership in both the Republican and Democratic parties in California should be educating themselves and the public about the costs of mass legal and illegal immigration. Far from being a wedge issue, immigration is one of the most significant issues in California and it affects everything from education to welfare usage in the state. For example, in 1970, California had the 7th most educated workforce of the 50 states in terms of the share of its workers who had completed high school. By 2008 it ranked 50th, making it the least educated state in the country. The large relative decline in educational attainment rates in California is a direct result of immigration. Without immigrants, the share of California's labor force that has completed high school would be above the national average. The large share of California adults who have very little education is likely to strain social services and make it difficult for the state to generate sufficient tax revenue to cover the demands for services made by its large unskilled population. [See, "A State Transformed: Immigration and the New California"]

Other statistics are also troubling. Fifty-eight percent of illegal aliens in California are in or near poverty. Forty-eight percent of households headed by illegal aliens in California are making use of at least one major welfare program. Sixty-five percent of illegal aliens in California are uninsured, and illegal aliens and their children make up 31 percent of the state's total uninsured population. Looking at the total immigration population (both legal and illegal immigrants) does not improve things much. Approximately 45 percent of immigrants (both legal and illegal) and their children in California are in or near poverty, compared to approximately 24 percent of native-born Californians and their children. While 18 percent of native-born-headed households in California use a major welfare program, over 38 percent of (legal and illegal) immigrant-headed households in California make use of at least one such program. While 12.8 percent of native-born Californians and their children are uninsured, 28.4 percent of immigrants (legal and illegal) and their children in California are uninsured. [See, "Immigrants in the United States, 2007: A Profile of America's Foreign-Born Population"]

Political strategists in California should be highlighting these problems and painting their opposition as part of the problem. For whatever reason, neither political party in California has taken the lead. From personal experience, I know that some voters in California blame illegal immigration on policies advanced by the Democratic Party, while others believe the Republican Party is to blame – likely the result of President Bush pushing amnesty during his time in office. Suffice to say that voters remain unclear as to which party in California is going to stand up for the rule of law. Many votes are up for grabs on this issue as voters of all political stripes are frustrated with the unwillingness of some government officials to support the enforcement of immigration laws. These voters bear the brunt of the consequences of non-enforcement.

It is painfully obvious that many political consultants have not done their homework – campaigning on low taxation will not attract illegal aliens (aka "future voters") to the Republican Party. Illegal aliens generally have very limited skill sets and low levels of education, meaning that they cannot earn a lot of money. People who don't make much money aren't taxed much, meaning that a low-tax campaign simply isn't going to resonate. Not only that, because illegal aliens are poor and tend to have large families, they tend to use a lot in government services (and if legalized, they would have access to even greater taxpayer-subsidized welfare). From the perspective of a person living off government welfare, lower taxes means fewer handouts.

Mr. Klink claims that any kind of hard-line stance on immigration is "a further nail in the coffin for the California Republican Party." This is a myopic view. If these trends continue, mass immigration will be the nail in the coffin for the entire state of California.