January 19, 2004
Will Bush regret his immigration reform proposal?

I've been wondering lately if immigration issues will cause a rift in the Republican Party during this election season. There's already some conservative rumbling over government spending, though I agree with Nick Confessore that it's a bit early to make anything out of that. President Bush will keep on claiming that he's fiscally responsible and that it's terrorists and Democrats who force him to spend more than he'd like, and he'll largely get away with it.

With immigration, though, there's two fronts that Bush has to worry about. First, as noted before, promising without delivering is worse than not promising. I'll believe that Bush will risk political capital to get Congress to do something it doesn't want to do when I see it. If Bush fails to get something on his desk, he'll certainly face a Democratic candidate who won't hesitate to point it out. That surely won't gain him anything with Hispanic voters.

The other danger to him is from the nativist flank of the Republican Party, which may be smaller than it once was but is still vocal and uncompromising. As Luis notes, one of the leading nativists, Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, is looking into get an initiative onto the state ballot that would require state agencies to check for proof of legal residency before providing "non-emergency services". What exactly does that mean?

In an interview Saturday, Tancredo said that will require all state and county agencies to require proof of citizenship or legal residency from anyone seeking any public service. At a recent legislative council hearing, he said that could include programs administered by the state using federal money.

The scope could be immense, and would include things like the incorporation of a company or getting a gun license, for which proof of legal residency isn't now required.

While basic K-12 education is exempt, many programs now offered in schools wouldn't be, including after-school reading programs or school health programs.

"Although (Tancredo) was vague about this at the legislative council hearing, the nightmare scenario for me would be that it could be interpreted to include police services as well," said Anna Sampaio, a specialist in immigration issues at University of Colorado-Denver. "If somebody is a victim of domestic violence or is being harassed by a neighbor, they would not be just deterred but in some instance barred from going to local police for help," she said.

Tancredo said that police investigations couldn't be construed as services under the amendment, but others disagree.

"It certainly seems to me that if you are the victim of a robbery, under this amendment the police could demand to see your identification before they investigate," [Denver lawyer Mark] Grueskin said.

"If you wanted to provide clarity, you'd provide a definition of what an emergency or non-emergency service is. As a lawyer, I can only conclude this lack of clarity is on purpose," he said, noting that the ambiguity could later be used in the courts to push for as expansive an application as possible.

"Every statutory city, every county and frankly even home rule cities are political subdivisions of the state of Colorado. I don't see those entities, particularly those that receive direct or indirect state funding can be treated any differently than the state itself," Grueskin said.

Won't that be a fun question to debate in a state that Bush won with 51% in 2000? I should note that Tancredo has another bill already out there, though it's one that apparently has some merit to it. (Via Ginger.)

Right now, the backlash against Bush's proposal seems to be coming from the truly loopy members of his party (and if you think that's frothy, try reading Part II). All I'm saying is that this element is out there, and if you think they've got no place else to go, then I'll remind you that Democrats thought the same thing about Nader supporters in 2000. Bush may yet pull all of this off, but I think it's trickier than it looks.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 19, 2004 to National news | TrackBack

LOL! Stephen King couldn't have written a better conservative horror story. You gotta love how a story devolves from Bush's immigration policy, to a majority-less presidental race, to a Howard Dean power grab, to a Hillary Clinton power grab. Covered all bases in the paranoid realm, although I'm sure in the liberal realm the same scenario would place Bush as the one unwilling to relinquish power.

Posted by: kdub on January 20, 2004 1:53 AM