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April 17, 2006
The Immigration Backlash

The massive demonstrations of the past few weeks of illegal immigrants and their supporters waving Mexican flags and supporting "la Raza" may have inspired some politicians, like Ted Kennedy, to maneuver themselves to the forefront of the movement for amnesty, attempting to pander to the show of force that the protestors intended. However, it appears from electoral polling that the same demonstrations have propelled hard-line border-security politicians to greater popularity as the protests and their demands for benefits repelled a large segment of the existing electorate:

As lawmakers set aside the debate on immigration legislation for their spring recess, the protests by millions around the nation have escalated the policy debate into a much broader battle over the status of the country's 11 million illegal immigrants. While the marches have galvanized Hispanic voters, they have also energized those who support a crackdown on illegal immigration.

"The size and magnitude of the demonstrations had some kind of backfire effect," said John McLaughlin, a Republican pollster who said he was working for 26 House members and seven senators seeking re-election. "The Republicans that are tough on immigration are doing well right now."

The organizers of these demonstrations have learned a lesson from the first days of the organized protest. In the initial demonstrations, protestors hauled the Mexican flag over the American flag and carried signs with slogans associated with the reconquista movement, such as "We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us!" The rhetoric and the signage of the first days reflected a direct challenge to American sovereignty, scolding the US for even forcing them to emigrate to an area that had been Mexican -- about six generations before any of them were born.

Since then, protestors have been instructed to carry only American flags and tone down the allusions to Aztlan, the Mecha/La Raza goal of an independent Latino nation in what is currently the American southwest. That has not fooled many of those who watch these rallies, in which people who broke the law entering the country demand to get special processing for residency and citizenship ahead of others who obeyed the law and have waited patiently for their opportunity. When politicians such as Kennedy stand in front of these crowds and demand their normalization, the people who followed the law wonder why they will have to wait even longer while border-jumpers get preferential treatment.

That is what causes the backlash -- the fundamental unfairness of the demands coming from these protestors and the politicians pandering to them. Americans feel that their laws should be obeyed and those who break them should be held accountable. Having parades of lawbreakers marching down the street demanding that they in essence benefit from their lawbreaking sticks in the craws of many Americans, even those who might otherwise be sympathetic to guest-worker programs. It has polarized the debate, and now more people offer all-or-nothing solutions.

The only strategy for dealing with this problem is to lower the temperature of the debate. The bottom line for American hard-liners is border security. If Congress could pass a tough border-security program that includes building an effective wall on the southern border and funding to enforce it, the main need of the anti-illegal coalition will have been met. Once that is accomplished, the temper of the issue can return to normal and we can have a rational debate on what to do with the 12 million illegals presently in the country. We can reach a broad consensus on a fair program for those who came to work if we can be assured that we will not have the same problem in another twenty years, only this time with 50 million illegals.

Americans want fairness for all sides on this issue. We have tried the amnesty approach and in a generation saw the problem quadruple as a result. Fairness dictates that border security comes first this time, and afterwards the solution for the people who remain inside strengthened borders.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 17, 2006 6:11 AM

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