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“No Illegal Alien Will Be Left Behind”
The politics of immigration.


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John O’Sullivan

This week’s demonstrations and marches by illegal immigrants and their supporters pose an interesting question: Who were they directed against?

Not the Democrats or the semi-organized Left. Democrats strongly backed the marches which were actually organized by the usual hard-Left suspects responsible for the antiwar and anti-Bush campaigns–ANSWER, and so on.

Well, then, they must have been directed against the GOP, corporate America, and the establishment? Not so. The White House also supports the marches. President Bush took time out while talking to students at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies to praise the marchers for expressing “discontent” democratically.

Much of corporate America goes along–some businesses closed down to allow their Hispanic workers to participate. And all over the U.S. schools are giving their pupils “credits” for playing truant in order to show approval of law-breaking and open borders.

Those senators who favored the misnamed “compromise” immigration reform, now stalled, loudly express the hope that the marches will change the minds of their recalcitrant colleagues in both House and Senate. And the media, fondly recalling its glorious days in the post-1968 “revolution,” almost salivates over the prospect that these demonstrations are the harbinger of a new multicultural political movement that would revive the moribund Left.

So I repeat the question: Who are these demonstrations against?

In the first instance they are self-evidently directed against most congressional Republicans (supported by a discreet minority of Democrats) who oppose the legislation supported by all of the above and who want to enforce border security without either a guest-worker program or a massive amnesty for illegals. The marchers are hoping to morally impress or intimidate (take your pick) these legislators into accepting a slightly different version of the “compromise” when Congress returns from recess.

But the legislators themselves are marching to a different drummer–namely, the strong skepticism about the immigration “compromise” as revealed in the opinion polls. Almost all polls have shown over years that about two thirds of the voters favor lower immigration levels overall, and are increasingly worried about impact of immigration on both economy and society. They are sometimes prepared to go along with highly moderate versions of guest-worker and amnesty as part of much tougher enforcement legislation, on the lines of the House bill proposed by Rep. Jim Sensebrenner–provided that the illegals meet a number of strict standards–learning English, paying stiff fines and back taxes, returning home to join the line for entry, and so on. But they are in general firmly opposed to illegal immigration, want to see it stopped, and worry about its impact on lower-paid Americans and the social fabric of American society.

So the marches are, in effect, directed against the voters since they stand behind the Republican legislators blocking the bill. If one listens carefully to the rhetoric of the marchers and their organizers, they deny the right of Congress and the voters to control immigration, to expel illegal immigrants, or even to place any conditions on their remaining–the conditions that the voters insist on as the minimum for any genuine compromise.

Such rhetoric comes under two headings. The first holds that the illegals are already Americans with the rights of American citizens since any distinction between citizens and foreigners is suspect as xenophobic or racist. The second is that the Americans are the real foreigners since they invaded America, stole it from the Indians and Amerindians, drew their own illegal borders across it, and now seek to criminalize the original inhabitants.

These two positions plainly contradict each other. Neither is likely to appeal to the voters. But the second is much more repellent to ordinary Americans than the first. The demo organizers, who understand politics, have told the marchers to wave only American flags and to refrain from separatist slogans and placards. So it is very significant that many marchers–in some cases most–have ignored this advice, waving Mexican flags and anti-Yanqui placards.

Even if they succeed in intimidating Congress, therefore, they are alienating the voters still further. Recent polls indeed show far more voters hostile than favorable to the marchers.

So the division represented in these marches pits the marchers, backed by the White House, both party leaderships, corporate America, and the organized multicultural Left, against the voters, supported by a narrow majority of Republicans and a small minority of Democrats in Congress. If Congress sticks with its current stalemate and the legislation stalls, the issue will go into cold storage for two or four years–i.e., between now and next two national elections. If the marchers succeed in pressuring Congress to revive the bill, however, then we are all in for a long hot political summer.

In the streets the marchers will try to keep up their momentum by continual demonstrations that will further alarm voters. In Congress the details of the legislation will become better known as the legislators debate it–and those details will alarm the voters far more than any demonstration.

As Senator Jeff Sessions has already shown in his legislative examination, the bill would cost the American taxpayer tens of billions of dollars in extra food aid and Medicaid costs alone. It would grant a green card and path to citizenship to any illegal alien who had been employed for any three of the last five years in the U.S. As Sessions–who has led the opposition to the measure with a calm reason that contrasts sharply with the emotional rhetoric of its advocates–commented mordantly, “no illegal alien will be left behind.”

That’s an understatement. Other critics, looking at the fine print, have pointed out that bill would not prohibit rapists and other violent criminals from getting amnesty and U.S. citizenship. A former immigration advisor to the Attorney General, Kris Kobach, added in the New York Post that it would replace all the existing immigration judges with lawyers drawn from the notoriously pro-illegal immigration bar–thus ensuring that any borderline case would be decided in favor of the illegal alien.

As these details emerge into the light of publicity–and thanks to interested bloggers such as Mickey Kaus and Michelle Malkin, they cannot be suppressed by mainstream-media indifference–the voters are likely to turn against not only the “compromise” bill but also against the politicians most associated with it.

John McCain, for instance, was recently booed by a labor-union meeting over the issue. How will he fare in the 2008 presidential primaries if he remains the Republican face on this bill throughout the summer? Is President Bush likely to recover from his present time of troubles if his only major new domestic program is granting amnesty to illegals? And how will the cool-to-chilly Hillary Clinton who in the last few months flip-flopped on the issue of illegal immigration–first denouncing it and later denouncing House bill opposing it–cope with a long hot summer of genuine public debate?

Keeping the debate closed in two weeks looks like good horse sense for these and other ambitious pols. If they decide to support the marchers, however, the frustrated voters themselves may start marching too. And since the voters can march but the marchers can’t vote, that would finally be game, set and match to the people.

John O’Sullivan is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington and editor-at-large of National Review. He is currently writing a book on Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II.



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