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October 17, 2006
How Key Is Immigration In The Midterms?

Many people have derided the Republican efforts to establish tough border security and hard-line policies on illegal immigration as simple election-year rhetoric. Critics have called it fear-mongering. Democratic candidates, however, have increasingly embraced the supposedly right-wing position in this year's midterms:

In Washington, the Democratic leadership in Congress has maintained a united front on immigration, demanding legislation that would legalize illegal immigrants and create a guest worker program to ensure a reliable legal flow of foreign workers. ...

The vast majority of Democrats in Congress support their leadership’s call for legislation that would grant legal status to illegal immigrants and toughen border security. And politicians of all stripes go against their party leaders, on occasion, to address regional concerns. But the appearance of some candidates vying to be tougher than Republicans on border security, particularly in tight races in conservative states, shows how divisive the immigration issue remains.

The tough border security message is carried mostly by Democrats in the South and the Midwest, where a surge of Hispanic immigration is transforming small towns and cities. In such communities, some candidates are deriding legalization as amnesty, proclaiming border security as their priority or criticizing Republican challengers as failing to stem the tide of illegal immigration.

This stance has fueled an outcry from immigrant advocacy groups, including the National Council of La Raza and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, which have accused some Democrats of abandoning their principles. They warn that Democrats and Republicans who demonize immigrants risk alienating Hispanic voters, who are expected to constitute a powerful bloc in coming years.

For a right-wing partisan bone-tosser, immigration suddenly has gained a lot of political luster after the passage of the Secure Fence Act. Harold Ford, running for Bill Frist's open seat in Tennessee, has positioned himself to the right of the GOP Senate caucus. Former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler has pledged to oppose any hint of amnesty if elected to Congress from North Carolina. John Cranley, opposing Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), accuses him of supporting the amnesty that had been the Democratic Party position on immigration reform.

What changed? The Democrats did some polling, and discovered what Frist knew already. Middle-class voters don't like illegal immigration. Regardless of party affiliation, they also don't approve of granting citizenship to people who broke the law to get here. The Democrats found out that their platform on immigration was a loser.

Suddenly, Democrats in tight races have become more Catholic than the Pope on immigration. Amnesty? Never heard of it! Their consultants have told them that the best way to beat Republicans is to cast them as incompetent on border enforcement, a charge that GOP procrastination on this issue has enabled to some degree. However, it's worth noting -- in big, bold letters -- that the Senate only passed the SFA in the last days of the session after the Democrats and a few Republicans threatened to filibuster any attempt at securing the border that didn't include a rapid track to citizenship for the lion's share of the 12 million illegals already in the US.

Voters who buy the election-eve conversions of Ford and other Democrats into immigration hawks will be in for a huge surprise. Ford voted against more border agents while in Congress. Tessa Hafen in Nevada castigates Republican Jon Porter for backing Bush's comprehensive strategy for immigration, but then sheepishly admits to favoring legalization herself. Immigrants-rights activist David Lubell isn't fooled; he talks about the "disconnect" between party policy and the rhetoric of Democratic candidates in tough elections.

Don't get fooled. If the Democrats had supported robust enforcement of immigration law, we would have had this issue resolved in 1986, 1988, 1990, and 1992. Had the Democrats valued border security, the Clinton Administration would have built the barriers on the southern border, and the Democrats wouldn't have blocked GOP efforts to address the security issue by itself after 9/11. We can criticize the GOP and the Bush administration for not getting tough enough on immigration, but don't believe for a second that the Democrats have suddenly discovered their inner Tom Tancredo.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 17, 2006 5:29 AM

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Many people have derided the Republican efforts to establish tough border security and hard-line policies on illegal immigration as simple election-year rhetoric. Critics have called it fear-mongering. Democratic candidates, however, have increasingly ... [Read More]

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