GOP: Gulf of Policy

This column by Charles Babington from The Washington Post brings up a lot of interesting issues in its examination of GOP behavior on the politics surrounding immigration. Perhaps the most significant point that emerges from this piece is that GOP members of our national legislature may be choosing such different tacks on immigration at least partly because of concerns over their own re-elections. I know that's not surprising usually, but it should be, especially in a case like this where emotions and stakes in terms of real, human lives run so high.

Babington breaks it down like this: Because members of the House run for re-election every two years, their concern for the Party -- and their own careers -- has a short-term focus. They think they can better mobilize the electorate with nationalist rhetoric that fires people up for election time. Pres. Bush (who can't run for re-election) and the Senate (who get elected every six years), meanwhile, may have a long-term focus in this matter. Since Latinos are the fastest growing sector of the electorate and make up the majority of immigrants, Bush, Karl Rove, and others see a more tolerant approach to immigration as a way to secure solid footing in the growing Latino population for elections down the road. Neither of these motives has anything to do with immigration itself.

At least twice in the article the question arises as to who aligns better with what "the American people" want. House GOP leaders come back to this repeatedly and use it to champion the field hearings, currently occurring in a few places across the country. Babington writes:

"A New York Times/CBS poll in May found that 61 percent of Americans think illegal immigrants who have lived and worked in the United States for at least two years should be given a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status; 35 percent agreed with the House's position that they should be deported....

"Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) says such surveys miss the point.'I think the Senate probably is reading the polls,' he said, 'but I think the House members are listening to real people in real situations. . . . People keep saying: border security, biometric cards [to prove legal status] and no amnesty.'"

I'd say Kingston misses the point. Whether or not one trusts the results of polling or claims to talk to constituents to read the lay of the land, do the gut feelings of "the American people" hold much legitimacy when we refuse them in-depth knowledge of the situation that not even our legislators know?

Consider the field "hearings". Columnist Ruben Navarrette elucidates some of the dubious elements I've worried would characterize House efforts to poll the people directly -- and delay voting on the bill the Senate has passed it. The hearings seem to serve more as soap boxes for the Congressmen and a few invited guests rather than forums through which ordinary citizens can ask questions and voice opinions, according to Navarrette.

He writes, of the hearing he attended in San Diego:

"The hearing was led by Rep. Ed Royce, R-California, who chairs the House International Relations subcommittee on international terrorism and nonproliferation. Royce told me before the hearings that he intended to focus on border security and whether the United States is at greater risk to another terrorist attack because the U.S.-Mexico border is so incredibly porous."

The House GOP and anti-immigration groups continually return to War-on-Terror rhetoric and images of an invading army pouring across our southern border. But, as Border Patrol Supervising Agent Sam Lucio told me recently, not a hint of terrorism-related activity has occurred in the Tucson sector, the busiest area for border crossing in the country. But by continually raising the specter of terrorism and tying it so securely to immigration, House GOP leaders can drum up their constituents' ire and ride the flames to re-election in November.


Anonymous Gerard Stamm said...

Mr. Goren,
Are you ultimately advocating for unregulated immigration or completely open boarders? Skipping the real but so over-stated argument of increasing terroristic intrusions into the USA, can't "unlimited" immigration burden our poorly constructed social system? Can't poorly paid immigrants bring down wages for the country's citizens? Can't a rapidly burgeoning population degrade our natural environment faster than it already is?

By the way, love your thinking-man's blogs. GStamm

7:48 PM, July 18, 2006  
Blogger Jeremy Goren said...

GStamm brings up some key questions here, the answers to which are still hotly debated with data from several sides. Do more people -- especially those not necessarily paying their weight in income taxes -- put pressure on floundering social institutions? Sure. But those working with false Social Security numbers are paying into a system the benefits of which they won't reap.

Could workers paid under the table undercut wages and job conditions? Perhaps. But if we forced employers to apply workplace standards even to workers who right now would be considered undocumented, we would even the playing field for all workers. Also, the major leadership of labor unions in the immigrant-rights movement casts doubt on the claims that undocumented immigrants threaten documented workers.

The pressure on our natural environment is certainly a concern; but, in my mind, much more damage is being done to our planet through the loosening of environmental restrictions on corporations by the Bush administration and the pro-industry people it has installed to key environmental positions. And, I suspect that the shifting of population from the environmentally lax Mexico to the more-conscious USA might be less taxing on the world ecosystem as a whole, but that's a purely wild guess. And the copious amounts of trash left throughout the desert by border crossers would disappear if border militarization and tight-fisted admission policies didn't force people into the wilderness.

As for advocating open borders, I'll admit that I'm not sure. Frankly, we did not regulate passage across the USA-Mexico border until around the middle of the 20th century, and the world didn't end. We've had several official calls for Mexican workers over the years -- the abusive Bracero programs. And we has a mass deportation of Mexicans in 1953 when we finished with their labor for the time being. Clearly, these are different times; but, might monitored but passable check points in conjunction with adaptations in immigration policy, like temporary-worker visas, make things more sane and orderly in the borderlands? I've yet to see satisfactorily proven answers.

10:39 PM, July 18, 2006  

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