The topic is immigration. At face value, a simple concept: just as people occasionally leave America to find new opportunity, a number of people would like to come to America to find new jobs, people willing to give up their existing lives for a chance at a better standard of living. The issue, as nearly all political issues tend to be, is considerably more complex.
It's nearly undisputed that the vast majority of American citizens are the products of immigration. In fact, many citizens take pride in the fact that they have gained wealth and prosperity after arriving in a new land with essentially nothing to their name. It therefore stands to reason that most Americans would welcome immigrants with open arms, bring them in by the boat or truck as fast as possible. The statistics don't necessarily disagree with this belief: American immigration quotas are at their highest levels EVER. Nevertheless, illegal immigration is also at an all-time high, with an estimated 10,000,000 illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States. The case for illegal immigration is simple: the desire for change overcomes the desire for legality - and the delays associated with obtaining the proper legal authorization, and the choice is made to enter the country illegally or to stay longer than is legally allowed. The methods of illegal immigration are immaterial: in a country based on the rule of law, all illegal immigration should be treated on equal grounds. The fact that nearly ten million illegal immigrants are in the country suggests that the practice is not only common, it's ridiculously easy.
Enter the current opportunity for Bush to alienate another large group of past voters: in a desperate bid to gain favor in Florida and California, Bush has proposed1 giving 'temporary' legal status to illegal immigrant workers. The plan itself is rather simple: illegal immigrants in the United States would be able to gain legal status for an initial three-year period if they can prove they have jobs. The plan itself should not shock anyone: the two states where Bush can win or lose the 2004 election are heavily hispanic, and both contain more than a million illegal hispanic immigrants (Florida's illegal immigrant population is estimated between 1 and 3 million, California is estimated between 4 and 5 million). As Bush's original (2001) plan to grant amnesty to illegal aliens died with September 11, a newer, more conservative plan was certainly going to arise sometime before the 2004 election.
The question arises: will this really be the windfall the Bush team obviously expects? The answer, clearly, is that it will not. First and foremost, illegal immigrants can not now, and will not in 2004, be able to vote (legally). Therefore, this plan assumes that the general Hispanic community welcomes such a plan. History suggests otherwise: in the 2003 recall election, Davis' support decreased with the passing of SB 602, a California senate bill that granted a driver license to anyone and everyone who could produce a single form of government identification, regardless of the nation of origin. The passage of the bill saw opposition rise3 not only in the traditional conservative Republican ranks, in the form of groups that sought — and in hindsight, likely would have been able — to defeat the bill by referendum, but also by grassroots Hispanic groups that felt the bill delegitimized their own legal entry into the nation. Indeed, by granting legal status to those who had bypassed the legal system, SB 60 insulted and consequently alienated the legal Hispanic voters that it was designed to court.
Clearly, the fiasco in California was not confined to legal hispanic voters. Other minorities, specifically African Americans, saw the growing acceptance of illegal immigrations as unfair competition for the low skill, low wage jobs: as many illegal immigrants will work for less than minimum wage, it becomes increasingly difficult for unskilled labor to find jobs that actually pay minimum wage. Furthermore, the supply glut caused by the 4,000,000 illegal workers in the state has driven down wages to a point where even moderately skilled jobs can be filled at minimum wage, causing a decrease in the average pay scale, which manifests itself in a rise in the poverty rate and an increase in unemployment and welfare as inner city workers realize that they can make nearly as much money by accessing social programs as they can competing with the illegal labor.
Returning to the national level, it becomes clear that Bush's planned legalization of illegal labor will alienate significant numbers of voters: not only will traditional hispanic voters not be fooled, but traditional conservatives will be insulted, and - again, using California as a bellwether - non-hispanic minorities will likely feel slighted at the pandering to the specific minority group.
In the long run, expect the current pandering to contribute to Bush's resounding defeat in 2004 as traditional conservatives walk away from the struggling campaign in favor of more a candidate that isn't such a political whore.
- Forbes: Bush proposes temporary work plan for immigrants
- Google Search: California SB 60
- WorldNetDaily: Illegal immigration may decide California recall