February 19, 2004
A further split on immigration

I've expressed skepticism before about President Bush reaping a political windfall from his recent immigration reform proposal. While it's possible, if he actually puts some political capital on the line, that he might swing some Hispanic voters his way with this, I think the backlash from his own party will more than outweigh any such boon to him. Yesterday, the GOP candidates in the primary for the new 2nd Congressional District provided some further evidence to that thesis.

President Bush's proposed immigration policy was a target Wednesday during a forum of Republican candidates for the 2nd Congressional District, who said the plan is too lax on illegal immigrants in Texas.

The comments ranged from dismissal of the Bush plan by Houston police officer John Nickell to guarded criticism from former Judge Ted Poe, who said the United State should beef up efforts to improve the economy in Mexico to keep workers in that country.

But none of the six Republican candidates in the March 9 primary for the newly drawn district supported the party's president on the issue.


"We all know and like President Bush in this room. We think he is as great of a president as there has been," said candidate Clint Moore. "But this policy is not a good one."

Nickell said the U.S. military should be used to enforce the nation's borders.

Nickell has testified before Congress in opposition to the Houston police department policy against checking the immigration status of people who are arrested or otherwise have contact with Houston officers.

He said the "hands-off" policy prevented the city from picking up illegal immigrant Walter Sorto, convicted of killing two East End waitresses, when he was stopped for traffic violations before the slayings.

"This cannot be allowed," he said.

Businessman George Fastuca complained that Bush's policy will lead to an amnesty program that will encourage illegal immigration.

Businessman Mark Henry said the president's package must be modified to ensure against amnesty. He favors creation of a guest worker program that would help keep track of those coming here, but said non-working family members should not be allowed to accompany guest workers.

"When they are finished working here, they go home," Henry said.

Poe said that Congress should take a "common sense approach" to immigration, and that businesses hiring illegal immigrants should be held accountable.

"The long-range goal should be to devise a policy to improve the economy of Mexico to keep them there," Poe said.

Now, I'm not claiming that the nativist wing of the Republican Party is going to abandon Bush in November. The main alternative for folks of this persuasion is the very definition of "fringe" and will get basically zero mainstream coverage. What I am saying is that when party stalwarts like these guys feel the need to distance themselves from a high-profile Bush initiative like this, it's a lot harder for Bush to advocate for it. If he can't convince his most loyal supporters that this is a good idea, why should anyone else believe him? And before anyone says the word "triangulation", I'll remind you that Bush gets nearly all of his approval in polls from Republicans. He can't afford to cross his base. This issue is a loser for him, and I'll bet you don't hear all that much more about it from Bush himself than you do the Mars mission.

By the way, I never thought I'd say these words, but Ted Poe is making some sense here. If the goal is to discourage the hiring of illegal immigrants, the policy needs to be aimed at those who do the hiring. I don't think he'll get much support from the business lobby, though.

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

What they say now doesn't matter -- on anything. When whoever wins gets to DC, he'll vote the way Tom Delay tells him to.

Posted by: M. Tullius on February 19, 2004 11:36 AM