I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The GOP fights itself on Illegal Immigration

GG note: This post was written in 2005, one month after I began blogging. It was recently dug up by some Obama cultists trying to discredit my criticisms of the President (to understand what I mean by "Obama cultists," see this 2006 post I wrote about Bush cultists: exactly the same mentality). As my subsequent writing reflects over the next many years, this post does not remotely reflect my views on immigration. My response to someone who recently asked about it is here:

That was a 6 yrs ago: 3 weeks after I began blogging, when I had zero readers. I've discussed many times before how there were many uninformed things I believed back then, before I focused on politics full-time - due to uncritically ingesting conventional wisdom, propaganda, etc. I've written many times since then about how immigrants are exploited by the Right for fear-mongering purposes. I'm 100% in favor of amnesty, think defeat of the DREAM Act was an act of evil, etc. That said, I do think illegal immigration is a serious problem: having millions of people live without legal rights; having a legal scheme that is so pervasively disregarded breeds contempt for the rule of law; virtually every country - not just the U.S. insists on border control because having a manageable immigration process is vital on multiple levels. But that post is something I wrote literally a few weeks after I began blogging when nobody was reading my blog; it was anything but thoughtful, contemplative, and informed, and - like so many things I thought were true then - has nothing to do with what I believe now.

That's why Obama cultists have to dig back 6 years into my archives to try to find things to discredit me.

* * * * *

To the rapidly expanding list of throbbing internal problems in the Republican Party, one can add, and it should really be placed near the top of the list, the dilemma of illegal immigration. And today’s Op-Ed in the Washington Post by GOP strategist and former White House official Leslie Sanchez, in which she cynically and baselessly blames the loss of the GOP Virginia gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore on his fervent opposition to illegal immigration, illustrates why the GOP has been so passive and fearful when it comes to dealing with this problem.

And yet few problems are more pressing. Over the past several years, illegal immigrants have poured into the United States by the millions. The wave of illegals entering the country is steadily increasing. The people living in the border states of California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico know this flow has to be drastically slowed and then halted. The situation is so dire in that region that the Democratic Governors of Arizona and New Mexico were forced to declare States of Emergency as a result of the flow of illegals into their states and the resulting, massive problems which it brings.

The parade of evils caused by illegal immigration is widely known, and it gets worse every day. In short, illegal immigration wreaks havoc economically, socially, and culturally; makes a mockery of the rule of law; and is disgraceful just on basic fairness grounds alone. Few people dispute this, and yet nothing is done.

A substantial part of the GOP base urgently wants Republicans, who now control the entire Federal Government, to take the lead in enforcing our nation’s immigration laws. And yet the GOP, despite its unchallenged control, does virtually nothing, infuriating this sector of its party. The White House does worse than nothing; to the extent it acts on this issue at all, it is to introduce legislation designed to sanction and approve of illegal immigration through its “guest worker” program, a first cousin of all-out amnesty for illegal immigrants.

GOP inaction when it comes to illegal immigration is at once mystifying and easily explainable. There is a wing of the party – the Wall St. Journal/multinational corporation wing – which loves illegal immigration because of its use as a source of cheap labor. And while that wing of the party is important because of the financial support it provides, it is a distinct minority when it comes to electoral power.

The real reason Republicans treat the need to address the illegal immigration problem like a trip to the dentist -- as something they want to avoid at all costs -- is because they have been convinced that adopting an aggressive stance on illegal immigration will cost them too many votes among the nation’s ethnic minorities and legal immigrants. And that is what brings us to Sanchez’s Op-Ed, which illustrates just how unconvincing and baseless that alarmist view really is.

With absolutely no hard data or even evidentiary inferences of any kind, Sanchez emphatically announces that the reason GOP candidate Jerry Kilgore lost the election in Virginia is because he was too strident about the evils of illegal immigration. And she warns other GOP candidates that they will face a similar fate unless they modulate their tone and soften their position. Here is the crux of Sanchez's warning:

Republicans nationally should draw a number of lessons from the party's unsuccessful effort to take back the Virginia governor's mansion this month. . .

When it comes to immigration, dropping the word "illegal" into any anti-immigration proposal is not likely to work electoral magic. . . . Republicans embrace anti-immigrant fervor at their peril. The party is perilously close to adopting as its immigration policy the hanging of a "closed" sign on the border. To do so would be a gross mistake that would oversimplify the problem and set back all the efforts of President Bush to build bridges to America's growing population of Hispanics while finding a workable solution to a complex problem, one with far-ranging political consequences for the party over the long run.

The “substance” of this claim is facially ludicrous and easily dismissed. There already is a “closed sign on the border” when it comes to illegal immigration. It’s called the law. The problem is that the “closed sign” isn’t being enforced because the Federal Government, which has its interfering, power-hungry hands in virtually everything else, has abdicated its duty in one of the very few areas where it was actually meant to be: border security.

While her policy argument is easily dismissed, Sanchez’s political analysis is odious in the extreme, as this line of thinking is what has brainwashed countless spineless Republicans to steer clear of illegal immigration, even while the crises intensifies every day. But the political warnings Sanchez issues is without substance, and for years has been misleading Republicans into a self-destructive fear to tackle this problem.

To “support” her warning to Republicans to back away from illegal immigration (is it even possible for most Republicans to go back any further? What is less than zero?), Sanchez asserts, without a shred of evidence, that large numbers of Hispanic and Muslim suburban voters in Virginia were turned off by Kilgore’s use of the term “illegal immigration”:

Substantial numbers of immigrants (not to mention their children and grandchildren, too) hear attacks on "illegal" immigration as attacks on them -- so that a discussion of, say, day laborers can quickly turn into an anti-Hispanic free-for-all. . . Ham-fisted attacks by Kilgore and others on illegal immigrants, while political red meat for some, cause many in our coalition -- particularly Hispanics and suburban women -- to recoil.

To support her evidence-free claim that Kilgore’s use of the term “illegal immigration” was to blame for his loss, Sanchez engages in this bit of rank speculation:

Kilgore lost reliably Republican and conservative Prince William and Loudoun counties -- places where he issued a strong call for a "crackdown" on illegal immigration. Why? One reason may be that close to 15,000 Muslims -- many of them immigrants -- live in those counties, and, according to some post-election survey data, they supported Democrats by close to 30 to 1.

This is as close to “evidence” as Sanchez gets in her entire Op-Ed -- from the premise that Virginia’s immigrant Muslims voted against Kilgore, she takes the flying leap to the conclusion that Kilgore's stance on illegal immigration is what is to blame for the loss of their votes (as though Muslim immigrants reliably vote Republican in the first place, and, more absurdly, as though there are no other issues which might be important to Muslim voters and which might have turned them away from the GOP . . . hmmm. . . what other issues might those be?).

Having reached this pre-ordained destination -- where she asserts that Kilgore lost because voters didn't like his strong stance against illegal immigration -- Sanchez concludes her article by urging Republicans not to talk of the problem of “illegal immigration” at all and, instead, confine themselves to tepid references to specific policy reforms.

But one of the most disturbing and destructive aspects of illegal immigration is that it is illegal. Indeed, that is the precise attribute which separates good immigration from bad immigration. Why should Republicans, or anyone, shy away from pointing out that illegal immigration, among its many evils, is “illegal”? That is just absurd. Moreover, it is precisely the fact that illegal immigrants enter the country illegally that spawns justifiable resentment, not only among large clusters of middle-of-the-road voters, but also among the very legal immigrant population about which Sanchez is so concerned. Emphasizing the "illegal" part of this problem is what Republicans need to do more of, not less.

And beyond these cynical electoral considerations, what is the point of getting elected if the price for entrance is running away from the country’s most pressing problems? Listening to the type of advice doled out by Sanchez turns both political parties into the vague, shapeless, stagnant puddles which have been clogging up Congress for years. Fear-driven political advice like this is the last thing anyone needs more of.

The real irony here is that the problem of illegal immigration is actually one of the very few of the ever-dwindling number of issues that has the opportunity to forge common ground among factions of voters which are, these days, engaged in a ceaseless war with each other. Being worried, and outraged, about illegal immigration is not confined to the extreme precincts of conservatism. Middle-class suburban voters whose primary concerns are local and pragmatic, rather than ideological, know the danger which illegal immigration poses to their communities and to their states, and they want something done about it.

The rather extreme actions against illegal immigration taken by the Democratic governors in New Mexico and Arizona illustrate that point conclusively. The notion that our nation's laws ought to be enforced and that law-breakers should not be rewarded are not controversial ideas among most voters. The politicians of either party who show fortitude and leadership on this issue will inspire affection among this substantial and non-ideological segment of the voting population. And, not incidentally, they will have acted to alleviate one of the country's most serious and far-reaching problems. To do so, political candidates have to reject the self-defeating and cowardly advice of the Leslie Sanchez's of the world and take a strong, principled stance on this issue.

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