Targeting Tancredo: Further proof we’re not serious about border control

By Mark Krikorian on September 20, 2002

National Review Online, September 20, 2002

Rep. Tom Tancredo is in hot water with polite society back in Colorado. But unlike some of his colleagues, it's not because he took a bribe, or had sex with an intern, or lobbied for a terrorist group.

No, his transgression was much worse: He suggested that the Immigration and Naturalization Service should enforce the law.

On August 11, the Denver Post ran a front-page story on one Jesus Apodaca, a bright and charming young man - with a 3.93 grade-point average, no less - who wants to go to the University of Colorado but can't afford the tuition. The reason he can't afford it, you see, is that he's an illegal alien, and illegal aliens have to pay out-of-state tuition rates.

The story was engineered by the Mexican consulate in Denver as part of a campaign to lobby the state legislature to approve a bill granting in-state tuition to illegal aliens.

Now, it's been true for some time that illegal aliens not involved in any other crime have little likelihood of being arrested. The INS policy director in the Clinton administration announced as much in the New York Times in 1999.

But Tancredo seemed to think that flaunting illegal status on the front page of the state's largest newspaper - with a photo no less - was a little much, and so last week he called the Immigration and Naturalization Service and asked what they were going to do about it.

The media/political class has responded as you might expect. One columnist slammed "law-and-order sanctimony," another called Tancredo's effort a "cynical ploy," while a third quoted Clarence Darrow to call the congressman a "moron." A Rocky Mountain News editorial compared him to Inspector Javert from Les Miserables, "the literary symbol of doctrinaire and unfeeling justice," as the editors helpfully explained. Never to be outdone in the looniness department, the Libertarian-party candidate for Tancredo's seat actually called him a Nazi.

The only public voice to speak up for Trancredo has been the redoubtable Denver Post columnist Al Knight. Oh, and the response from readers and constituents has been massively in Tancredo's favor.

Inconveniently for the pro-illegal-immigration side, the feds this week arrested dozens of illegal aliens at Denver International Airport for using fake documents to gain access to restricted areas. Their names were all listed in the newspaper, too - so perhaps they should also get off the hook.

And then, in the inevitable counterattack, the Denver Post on Thursday published anonymous allegations that Tancredo's contractor on a basement home-improvement project last year had several illegal-alien workers. This, of course, is just shy of targeting Tancredo because he ate at a McDonald's that had an illegal-alien dishwasher in the kitchen. With nine million illegal aliens in the country due to Washington's failure to enforce our borders, there's hardly a person alive who hasn't interacted with one in some way.

While other Republican officials in Colorado are running for cover or hiding from the media, Tancredo has diverged from the GOP playbook and refused to back down and grovel before the gods of political correctness. In a speech on the House floor Wednesday night, Tancredo said of Jesus Apodaca and his family, "They seem like good people, people I'd be happy to have as a neighbor and friends. But it is irrelevant to the issue of whether they have broken the law."

So what is the likely effect of all this? Well, first of all, it will hopefully have a chilling effect on further immigrant sob stories, which have been a staple of what passes for immigration reporting in the American media.

But more importantly, Tancredo has forced an issue that the elite, Republican and Democrat, would prefer to avoid: Do we want to have borders or not? Do we mean it when we say that after 9/11 the United States finally needs to have a coherent immigration-control system? Or should we adopt the Bush administration/Wall Street Journal solution of granting amnesty to illegal aliens and abolishing America's borders?

Tancredo stands to reap enormous political capital from this issue, just as the center-right Liberal party in Sweden earlier this week tripled its share of its parliamentary vote compared with four years ago because it was the only one willing to talk about the problems with immigration policy.

Stay tuned.

Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Visiting Fellow at the Nixon Center, and an NRO contributor.