American Renaissance

Immigration Plan Splits Conservatives

Wes Vernon,, Jan. 26

ARLINGTON, Va. - President Bush’s controversial immigration program produced a rhetorical head-on collision, as “compassionate conservatism” slammed into national security, at a conservative gathering this past weekend. And it spotlighted perhaps the most volatile dividing line between President Bush and his party’s conservative base.

At the concluding session of the three-day Conservative Political Action Conference, thousands of grassroots activists Saturday gave spirited responses as the president’s program was alternately described as “compassionate conservatism at its best” and “a stupid mistake we should not make again.”

Daniel Griswold of the libertarian Cato Institute said today’s immigration statutes are ineffective, not unlike such scofflaw-encouraging measures as Prohibition and the 55 mph speed limit.

“The choice,” he argued, “is not between immigration or not. It’s between whether it’s going to be legal, orderly, safe and dignified, or illegal, disorderly and unstable.”

Most of the “undocumented people in our midst are not bad people,” Griswold added.

“Most of the people who rode those planes on 9/11 were not bad people either,” Eagle Forum icon Phyllis Schlafly shot back. “But 19 of them were. And we are paying a heavy price.”

Syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin warned that the president’s plan allowing illegal aliens to apply for jobs Americans supposedly don’t want is “dangerous” in that it undermines national security and “provides more opportunity for Islamic terrorists to insert themselves into the American mainstream.”

To which Schlafly, who is from Missouri, added it was not true that Americans won’t take menial jobs. Illegals, she said, gravitate to a few states. In most of heartland America, she said, “the peaches are picked, the sheets are laundered, and the beds get made.”

America, in her view, cannot survive as one nation by serving as “the hiring hall for the world.” Meanwhile, she complained, “corporations have laid off thousands of [American] engineers.”

She charged that a major push for looser immigration standards and enforcement came from “the corporations that want the cheap labor,” which she attributed to “the corporate donations that have become very powerful, unfortunately, in the Republican Party.”

“There’s no such thing as a job no American will take,” she argued.

‘Americans Move Up’

Griswold then cited a National Academy of Sciences study showing the “small number” of native Americans who compete in the job market with newly arrived immigrants are those without a high school degree. A century ago, he recalled, new low-skilled workers arrived on our shores in “much higher numbers in terms of percentage of our population.” Native Americans responded at that time by going to high school to get their degree. “That’s what happens. Americans move up.”

“Although,” interjected panel moderator John Fund of the Wall Street Journal, “given the current state of many public high schools, that may not help much.”

Documented Euphemism

Malkin, herself the daughter of Philippine immigrants and author of the best seller “Invasion,” mocked the term “undocumented immigrants” as a politically correct weasel word.

Those who break our laws and sneak over our borders end up with lots of documents, she noted: fake Social Security cards, fake green cards, fake driver’s licenses, fake IDs of all kinds.

Malkin also took issue with President Bush’s declaration that his proposal unveiled last month is not an “amnesty” plan. She pointed out that the word “amnesty” is derived from “amnesia,” i.e., to forget. “Amnesty” for lawbreakers does not depend on a Clinton-style debate “on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”

That prompted a retort from Cato’s Griswold, who pointed out that under the Bush plan, illegals would have to work their way to ultimate citizenship, if that is the path they choose to follow. Also they would have to pay a “fee” that, to many of them, is no small amount of change.

“If some of them had to give up their first-born, [opponents of the president’s plan] would still call it ‘amnesty,” he said. The Cato analyst further recalled that President Bush “had started talking about this the second month he was in office” because “in his heart, he really believes this.”

Griswold described most illegal aliens from Mexico as “hardworking family values people,” who merely want a part of what Ronald Reagan called “that shining city on the hill.”

“We should keep the doors to the shining city open instead of slamming the door shut.”

Attempts to find consensus among the panelists were, at best, difficult. When Fund, a veteran Journal editorialist, noted the Bush administration had finally decided to revise the “joke” citizenship test that “everyone agrees is meaningless,” Schlafly disagreed: “No, everybody doesn’t agree that it’s meaningless.”

The discussion went right to the heart of the most emotional of several issues separating President Bush from many of his supporters. They argue that the system, or lack thereof, is unfair not only to Americans but also to legal immigrants, who waited in line and played by the rules.

More importantly, they believe that in a post-9/11 world, our very lives could depend on keeping track of people coming here and knowing who they are.