On Wednesday, the New York Times noted that “Immigration Cools as a Campaign Issue,” echoing the Washington Times’s earlier observation that “in the general election, the [immigration] issue has all but disappeared.” In the presidential campaign, this is true, because when the candidates agree, what’s there to debate? But immigration remains a politically potent issue that politicians ignore at their peril.
How do we know? To begin with, recent polling shows that the public still cares about it intensely. A Rasmussen poll finds that fully a quarter of voters are “angry” about “the current immigration situation,” with 74 percent of the total saying the government isn’t doing enough to secure the nation’s borders, and by more than 2 to 1 saying that gaining control of the border is more important than legalizing illegal aliens. And a Zogby poll commissioned by Judicial Watch found that more than 70 percent of likely voters want local cops to help enforce immigration laws and also oppose taxpayer funds for day-labor sites for illegal aliens.
More evidence of immigration’s enduring political appeal is Lou Barletta. This mayor of Hazleton, Pa., is one of the few Republican House challengers who has a good chance at toppling a Democratic incumbent, in a heavily Democratic district, no less — and he rose to national prominence as a champion of local immigration enforcement. In 2006, in response to a growing number of illegal residents in his city, he passed an ordinance that would fine those who hire them or rent them apartments; illegal residents started streaming out of the city despite the fact that the measure was struck down by a federal judge in response to an ACLU lawsuit. (The Third Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case yesterday, and since a similar Arizona law has been upheld, Hazleton’s odds are good.)
It’s not just that immigration control landed Barletta on national and international news; his stance is wildly popular in his city, where Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one. In Hazleton’s 2007 elections, not only did he defeat a Republican primary challenger, but so many Democrats wrote his name in that he also won their primary and was reelected with close to 90 percent of the vote.
The most recent poll has Barletta over incumbent Paul Kanjorski by five points.
But perhaps the most telling indication of the enduring political vigor of the immigration issue is in Arizona, where a coalition of business supporting illegal immigration is trying to roll back the state’s toughest-in-the-nation law. This wouldn’t be remarkable if supporters had called their ballot measure, Proposition 202, the “Repeal Employer Sanctions Act” or the “Help Businesses Keep Hiring Illegals Act” or even the “Arizona Needs Foreign Workers Act.” Instead, they’ve tried to piggyback on the public’s intense opposition to illegal immigration by calling their measure the Stop Illegal Hiring Act! This Big Lie strategy is cynical almost beyond belief — rather than stop illegal hiring, the ballot measure would encourage and expand it by abolishing mandatory use of the E-Verify system for the state’s employers, prohibiting any state action against an employer of illegals until the feds acted first, giving amnesty to the employers of illegal aliens, and removing the whistleblower protection in current law, among other things. (See the Stop Proposition 202 site for more details.)
The supporters of the anti-enforcement measure include some of the state’s biggest businesses, including McDonald’s franchisees, home builders, agribusiness, the Pepsi bottler, and other firms. These people know Arizona voters are committed to a law that is working — it’s survived an ACLU/Chamber of Commerce lawsuit, it’s been causing illegals to leave the state, and even the state’s Chamber of Commerce admits that their exaggerations about the likely fallout of the bill didn’t pan out. The only solution, then, was to trick the state’s pro-enforcement electorate; if “hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue,” then this measure is the tribute that the open-borders crowd pays to the political efficacy of a hawkish stance on immigration. And even that’s not likely to work; as a Tucson Citizen columnist put it, “But even if Proposition 202 supporters bamboozle the voters this election, that likely will only trigger an even more draconian law, by referendum or initiative, for the 2010 election.”
That warning about 2010 is one that Congress should also heed. Whatever the presidential candidates have said about pushing for amnesty in their first year in office, or first 100 days, or first day, Democratic lawmakers understand that the next election is just two years away, and amnesty would give voters 12 million reasons to take away their control of Congress .
— Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies and an NRO contributor. He is author of The New Case Against Immigration, Both Legal and Illegal, published this summer by Sentinel.