Gov. Sarah Palin wowed Republicans with her convention speech. In addition to her life story, she expressed strong conservative views on lower taxes, national defense, and energy independence.
But what does she think about immigration? She said nothing about it, no doubt at the behest of the McCain campaign. And there doesn't seem to be anything on the record revealing her views — not on border security, not on legal immigration, nothing. The Hill newspaper quotes an immigration expert in Alaska as saying "She's never made any statements. I don't recall really any positions that she's taken."
Given Sen. John McCain's leading role, with Sen. Ted Kennedy, in pushing for amnesty for illegal aliens and increased legal immigration, this missing piece in Mrs. Palin's portrait has some otherwise-enthusiastic voters concerned.
Here are a few things we do know. Alaska has a 1,500-mile border with Canada, but immigration is not a major issue. The Pew Hispanic Center estimated that the state has one of the smallest number of illegal immigrants, with fewer than 10,000 as of a few years ago, and one of the slowest growth rates in the illegal population. The total immigrant population isn't much bigger — the Center for Immigration Studies recently estimated that in 2007, there were only 39,000 foreign-born people in Alaska, legal and illegal combined, representing about 6 percent of the state population, less than half the immigrant share in the nation's population as a whole. Despite these small numbers, and despite data from the 2000 Census showing that Filipinos are by far the single biggest immigrant group in Alaska, the number of Mexican immigrants has grown enough that the Mexican government is set to open a Consulate this fall in Anchorage, Alaska's largest city. According to the Congressional Research Service, the legislature in 2003 declared Alaska a sanctuary state, "prohibiting state agencies from using resources or institutions for the purpose of enforcing federal immigration laws." Alaska is also one of the few states that gives driver's licenses to illegal aliens.
But since she only became governor last year, and has been battling entrenched politicians and oil companies ever since, and since immigration issues just aren't that politically salient in Alaska in the first place, none of the above really tells us anything about Mrs. Palin's views.
As a seemingly traditionalist conservative, unlike her running mate, there's an expectation that she's hawkish on illegal immigration. And it's possible her lack of a paper-trail on what writer John O'Sullivan calls the "National Question" — issues surrounding the coherence of our culture and the sovereignty of our Republic, like immigration, border security, bilingual education, and the like - may simply be a function of the normalness of her origins and surroundings: No one she knows wants to deconstruct America through open borders and multiculturalism, so she's never really had to think about it.
It's certain that when pressed on the campaign trail, she will mouth the McCain position on immigration — but which McCain position? After his campaign's near-death experience last year due to his championing the biggest illegal-alien amnesty in American history, Mr. McCain has said he "got the message" from the American people and now favors border security first (i.e., before moving on to the amnesty). But when pressed, it's abundantly clear he doesn't mean a word of it. Mr. McCain hasn't changed his mind about the need for enforcement so much as he's come to realize that the American people won't give him what he really wants — amnesty and increased immigration — unless he appears serious about enforcement.
This could be where Mrs. Palin comes in. She'd be much more believable selling "border security first" to voters because she's more likely to actually believe it. But if the Republican ticket does win, Vice President Palin will have a decision to make next year, when Mr. McCain will again try to push through a massive amnesty, whether the border is secure or not. The White House will be tempted to exploit her credibility with the right to try to sell amnesty to conservatives. But given the unprecedented outpouring of opposition to last year's amnesty bill, it would be a serious mistake for her to agree to such a role, as it would undermine her own political viability in the future. Grass-roots enthusiasm about, say, a Palin-Jindal ticket in 2012 would be significantly dampened if she were to vigorously push the position that has caused Mr. McCain the greatest problems within his own party.
Barring a political blunder like this on her part, we probably won't learn Mrs. Palin's real views on immigration until she comes out from Mr. McCain's shadow, either after his loss in November or when she runs to succeed him.
Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.