Splintered Plank: The White House Spins and Misses on Immigration

By Mark Krikorian on August 26, 2004

National Review Online, August 26, 2004

Before the draft Republican platform was released yesterday, the immigration plank was being billed as an independent effort, not directed by the White House. The selection of Pennsylvania's Rep. Melissa Hart to head the subcommittee that would address immigration was spun last week as a concession to pro-control conservatives, despite her mediocre voting record on immigration. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the platform committee co-chairman, denied that the White House was writing the platform immigration plank, telling the Washington Times that "I have talked to Karl [Rove] about the platform for a total of less than two minutes since I began working on this in the last month."

They must have packed a lot of information into those two minutes, because the draft platform's immigration section echoed in every particular the president's call for a massive guest-worker amnesty. It included the very same language, about matching "willing foreign workers with willing U.S. employers," and the same disingenuous disavowal of amnesty.

Nor were there any substantive challenges to the wording. During last night's platform committee deliberations, only trivial semantic changes were offered. This despite the fact that Tom Tancredo, head of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, has floated three important amendments: to oppose any form of legal status for illegal aliens (whether or not it's called "amnesty"), to call on states to bar illegals from obtaining driver's licenses, and to oppose the administration's recent agreement with Mexico to provide Social Security payments to illegal aliens.

It's not surprising that the draft language on immigration went unchallenged, since each member of the platform committee was screened on his views - immigration being one of the most prominent - before he was given a subcommittee assignment, in order to avoid ideological deviationism.

Of course, in one sense, the specifics of any platform aren't really all that important. The 2000 platform, for instance, discussed such momentous issues as "wellness" and the Samoan land-tenure system. But a look at immigration in the past several platforms highlights this year's radical departure from the views of the Republican rank and file:

1992: "Illegal entry into the United States, on the other hand, threatens the social compact on which immigration is based."

1996: "Republicans believe that by eliminating the magnet for illegal immigration, increasing border security, enforcing our immigration laws, and producing counterfeit-proof documents, we will finally put an end to the illegal immigration crisis."

2000: "We therefore endorse the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform," including more resources for interior immigration enforcement and an end to extended-family legal-immigration preferences.

Compare these with this year's draft, referring to the president's amnesty plan: "This new program would allow workers who currently hold jobs to come out of the shadows and to participate legally in America's economy," and "would allow men and women who enter the program to apply for citizenship in the same manner as those who apply from outside the United States." Notice the lack of the word "illegal" with respect to illegal immigration.

The administration's effort to choreograph the platform's approach to immigration - an exertion greater than those undertaken in behalf of other platform issues - clearly shows that the White House knows its views are not shared by most Republicans. David Frum tells of being on tour for his most recent book when the president made his amnesty speech in January, and in Frum's radio interviews "it was like being there on the first day of the Somme when the machine guns opened; I mean, every show you did, every question." He and many, many others called the administration to tell them, in Frum's words, that "there's a problem up here in Americaland; the Americans are unhappy about this."

In addition to the fact that voters out in the real world hate amnesty, the policy complications also keep piling up. A Center for Immigration Studies report released yesterday found that the net fiscal cost imposed by illegal-alien households on the federal government (i.e., federal services used minus federal taxes paid) is more than $10 billion, and that the figure would nearly triple if the illegals received legal status.

There's only so long a party can divorce itself from the views of "Americaland" without losing support. The White House understands it has an immigration problem, but is trying to stage-manage its way out. The simpler solution would be to embrace better immigration policies.

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