Democrats less plagued by border in presidential race
As President Bush heads to Congress today to try to revive the compromise immigration bill, immigration seems to rival the war in Iraq as a top issue in the contest to pick his successor.
John McCain got an earful on the subject in New Hampshire, far from the U.S.-Mexico border, last week after standing apart from the other Republican contenders by supporting the immigration legislation.
Residents at a Gilford town hall meeting complained to the U.S. senator from Arizona that illegal immigrants burden the health care system, and that their children are taught in Spanish in the public schools.
"I just don't see how you fix the problem," said Gail Taylor, an independent voter.
Immigration has become a hot-button topic across the nation, especially on the GOP side.
Breaking the party line
A recent Washington Post/ABC poll showed a narrow majority of Americans supported a program to let illegal immigrants live here legally if they pay a fine and meet other requirements. But a majority of Republicans surveyed opposed the provision.
Tom Rath, a New Hampshire GOP activist, said opposing the immigration measure allows the candidates to differentiate themselves from the unpopular president and their own party.
GOP contenders have been less reluctant to break with Bush on the war in Iraq, which has more support among the Republican loyalists than the immigration overhaul.
The legislation, which suffered a major setback in the Senate last week, would beef up border enforcement, set up a temporary worker program and provide a path to citizenship for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.
Although the compromise was supported by many business interests — a traditional GOP constituency — it also has drawn the wrath of many conservatives.
David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said much of the emotional response to illegal immigration stems from "a sense among people that the country is Balkanizing and there is not an America anymore."McCain, a co-sponsor of the compromise bill, has been on the defensive, with his chief rivals slamming the plan they argued is unfair to those who have come here legally and does not do enough to document who is coming across the border.
"I have to scratch my head when I look at the immigration bill in Washington," Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor and GOP presidential contender, told voters at a community forum in Manchester, N.H.. "It is just another example of Washington being broken."
"The litmus test you should have for legislation (is), is it going to make things better?" another top presidential contestant, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, said at the recent Republican debate. "And when you look at these compromises, it is quite possible it will make things worse."
McCain has responded that the legislation was a pragmatic compromise that recognized the U.S. cannot deport millions of people. He accused opponents of not offering alternatives. He said immigrants should learn English but reminded voters that generations of immigrants came to this country speaking Italian, Yiddish and Polish.
Bush and other supporters have insisted the bill does not provide for amnesty. They note that illegal immigrants will have to pay $5,000, and the heads of households would have to return to their home countries before obtaining a visa and get in line behind those already applying for citizenship.
Bush indicated Monday that he can rally members of Congress to pass the Senate bill.
"I'll see you at the bill signing," he said while traveling in Bulgaria.
Democrats also have had problems with the immigration bill, particularly with the provision that would give preference to immigrant applicants based on their skills rather than family ties. But for the most part, the issue has not dominated their campaign rhetoric the way it has for Republicans.
During a recent debate, all of the Republicans said they favored making English the official language of the country. By contrast, in the CNN Democratic debate held two days before, only one of the eight Democratic candidates, former Alaska senator Mike Gravel, said he supported designating English as the official language.
The opposition to illegal immigration in the state is higher among Republicans than Democrats, according to a University of New Hampshire poll taken in late March and early April. It found that 31 percent of Republicans said that illegal immigrants should be allowed to become citizens compared to 61 percent of Democrats.
Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, said that while immigration still ranks below Iraq, economy, health care and foreign affairs as a key issue for the state's voters, interest in immigration has likely grown here because of the intense media focus on the legislation.
After McCain's town hall meeting in Gilford, several attendees still were skeptical that the illegal immigration legislation would work. Katherine Lumbra, a retiree and Republican from nearby Laconia, said she doubted illegal immigrants could come up with the money to apply for the visa.
"If they are coming here to get a job are they going to have the $5,000?" she asked.
But some voters are torn by the issue. Robert Schroeder, who attended Romney's town hall meeting in Manchester, said he opposed amnesty, but added, "You can't take 12 million people and get rid of them."
Schroeder, a Republican retiree from Hooksett, said he was the son of German immigrants who belonged to a German club and spoke German at home. Still, Schroeder said that when he went to kindergarten he spoke English, a practice he believes that should continue with today's immigrants.
Schroeder's wife, Carolyn, said she agreed with Romney when he said that if the U.S. government cracks down on illegal immigrants working in this country, many of them will go home.
Not everybody bought Romney's approach, though. During a question and answer period with students at Concord High School, a young man told the governor that he worried that if illegal immigrants were not allowed to work, they would not have enough food.
"These families are dying. They are starving," said the student.
But Romney did not budge from his stance, saying "Those who are here illegally should not be allowed to stay."
Source: The Houston Chronicle
ABOUT AL GARZA:
Al Garza is National Executive Director of the Minuteman Civil Defense
Corps (MCDC). He previously served as Texas state director for MCDC
before being promoted to second in command. He is a 5th generation
descendent of LEGAL immigrants.
He was born in Texas and moved with his family at age 12 to California
where he finished his education. After graduating high school in 1965,
he volunteered for service in Vietnam with the Marines. He was
honorably discharged after four years of service with the rank of
Sergeant. His family has a long history of serving in the U.S.
He spent the rest of his career as a licensed private investigator,
and is now retired and living in Southern Arizona.
Al Garza has been a popular guest on many radio and television Talk