Immigration

Voters Did Not Endorse Amnesty

The idea is spreading that this month’s Republican electoral defeat somehow represented voter rejection of the enforcement-first approach to immigration championed by the House Republican leadership, and meant, instead, voter endorsement of the Bush-McCain-Kennedy approach that would amnesty (or “legalize”) the illegal aliens already here and double or triple future legal immigration.

This notion is so colossally wrong only a senator could believe it.

Kyl Won, DeWine Lost

Sen. Mel Martinez (R.-Fla.), that is. The presumptive general chairman of the Republican National Committee is peddling this ludicrous pro-amnesty spin, joined by a number of other politicians and journalists. Martinez told the Washington Times: “I think we have to understand that the election did speak to one issue, and that was that it’s not about bashing people, it’s about presenting a hopeful face. … Border security only, enforcement only, harshness only is not the message that I believe America wants to convey.”

Even before the election, the pro-amnesty crowd was preparing a full-blown disinformation campaign. Immigration enthusiast Fred Barnes blamed the then-coming Republican defeat in part on Congress’ failure to pass an amnesty and increase legal immigration. “But imagine,” Barnes wrote, “if Republicans had agreed on a compromise and enacted a ‘comprehensive’—Mr. Bush’s word—immigration bill, dealing with both legal and illegal immigrants. They’d be justifiably basking in their accomplishment. The American public, except for nativist diehards, would be thrilled.”

Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria was practically quivering in anticipation: “The great obstacle to immigration reform has been a noisy minority. … Come Tuesday, the party will be over. CNN’s Lou Dobbs and his angry band of xenophobes will continue to rail, but a new Congress, with fewer Republicans and no impending primary elections, would make the climate much less vulnerable to the tyranny of the minority.”

“Angry band of xenophobes”? “Nativist diehards”? That’s you and me, folks.

After Election Day, the name-calling continued. Tamar Jacoby of the otherwise conservative Manhattan Institute used her entrée at the Weekly Standard to denounce “far-right” groups she said were motivated by “xenophobia” and engaging in “demagoguery” over this “wedge issue.” She sounded an awful lot like a Democrat complaining about, say, the defense of traditional marriage. The Wall Street Journal, of course, cackled at “Immigration Losers” and warned against following immigration controllers “down the garden path of defeat.”

The open-borders crowd scavenged for results they hoped would confirm their pre-packaged conclusions. A favorite was the defeat of two Republican immigration hawks running for the House in Arizona, incumbent Rep. J.D. Hayworth and Randy Graf, who was seeking liberal Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe’s seat. The problem with pointing to these results as proof of the public’s support for the Bush-McCain-Kennedy “comprehensive” amnesty plan is that the very same voters overwhelmingly approved four good ballot measures related to immigration: denying bail to illegals, barring illegals from winning punitive damages in civil suits, prohibiting illegals from receiving certain state subsidies for education and day care, and declaring English the state’s official language. Clearly, the actual policy issue of immigration control remained hugely popular and, while Hayworth’s opponent endorsed a guest-worker program, he explicitly said on his campaign website, “Secure Our Border and Stop Illegal Immigration,” “Hold employers accountable for whom they hire,” and, “I oppose amnesty and will not support it.” Hardly a Bush echo.

Searching elsewhere for some ammunition, amnesty proponents pointed to the defeats in Colorado of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez and Republican House aspirant Rick O’Donnell as proof that the public is with them. What they don’t mention is that Colorado voters approved two tough initiatives: one to deny the tax deductibility of wages paid to illegals and another requiring the state’s attorney general to sue the federal government over non-enforcement of the immigration laws.

In the anti-Republican storm, both hawks and doves were affected. Immigration-control stalwarts such as Republican Rep. John Hostettler of Indiana were washed away, but so was Republican Senate amnesty co-sponsor Mike DeWine of Ohio. On the other hand, nationally known immigration hawks such as Republican Representatives Tom Tancredo of Colorado and Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin enjoyed easy re-election, as did Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, an immigration dove.

The pro-amnesty crowd has yet to explain why, if the public is with them, no candidates made a main part of their campaigns their support for legalizing illegal aliens and admitting millions of additional foreign workers. The only exception was Jim Pederson, the Democrat running against Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona. Pederson not only championed the President’s amnesty/guest-worker plan, but lauded the 1986 amnesty disaster as well. Unsurprisingly, he was defeated.

Some smarter—winning—Democrats actually had very tough immigration positions, explicitly endorsing an enforcement-first approach. For instance, Brad Ellsworth (who defeated Hostettler in Indiana) said: “We need to tighten our borders, enforce the laws we have and punish employers who break them.” Sen.-elect Claire McCaskill of Missouri expressed similar views, as did Sen.-elect Jon Tester of Montana and Jason Altmire, who was elected to the House from Pennsylvania.

Regardless of the facts, if the “amnesty mandate” myth takes root, the consequences could be dire. We’re already seeing its effects, with President Bush’s saying the day after the election that immigration is an area “where I believe we can find some common ground with the Democrats.” Martinez’s selection as RNC chairman is particularly disturbing in this context, because he didn’t just vote for the Senate amnesty, he actually wrote the final version. His Hagel-Martinez bill (S 2611) passed in May, despite the opposition of a majority of his fellow Republicans in the Senate—and it was dismissed out of hand by virtually all House Republicans.

Preventing the acceptance of the open-border crowd’s fairy-tale version of the election is imperative—both to stymie next year’s Bush/Democrat efforts to pass the amnesty and to preserving opportunities for future Congresses and Presidents to actually address this pressing issue in a constructive fashion.