Thursday, March 13, 2008
Sensenbrenner-like Bills A Political Ploy
It's not lost on anyone that the Republicans do not have sufficient votes to prevail in either chamber, if the Democrats hold firm. However, the real intention is to unnerve the Democrats who are running strong this year due to a combination of factors pressing on the voters – the slowing economy already resulting in massive job loss, the spreading housing debacle with crippling foreclosures, the continuing war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the growing number of medically uninsured. Additionally, a growing number of states are facing steep budget deficits with no expectation of any federal revenue back-fill. This sounds more like a legislative equivalent of the Willie Horton or Swift Boat ads reminiscent of the 1988 Bush, Sr. and the 2004 Bush, Jr. election strategies. And, considering the deteriorating economic status of a growing number of families during eight years of a Republican administration, immigration is a tried and tested diversion and the immigrants an easy scapegoat.
The series of legislative proposals, 14 at last count, are highlighted by an unprecedented measure to require a two-year maximum jail term for anyone caught crossing the border unauthorized a second time. Other measures include depriving states of 10% of highway funds if they continue the practice of issuing a driver's license to the undocumented, extend the presence of the National Guard along the border, end language assistance at federal agencies and the voting booth for the limited English-speaking, block funding to cities that prevent local police from inquiring about immigration status, authorize local and state police to enforce federal immigration laws, deport immigrants, legal and undocumented, for only one drunk-driving offense, and complete the 700 miles of border fencing construction at the southern border. This is enforcement over the top and would lead to criminalizing the millions of undocumented immigrants in the country, and all new unauthorized entrants, not to mention the hundreds of billions of dollars required to make any of this work.
While not explicitly endorsed by the Democratic leadership, newcomer Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina has introduced a bill in the House thoroughly invasive of every workplace nationally. He is considered typical of many conservative freshmen Democrats fighting to retain their seats in competitive congressional districts. The Shuler-Tancredo Bill, H.R.4088, dubbed the Secure America with Verification and Enforcement Act or SAVE ACT would require that all businesses, within four years, use the government's E-Verify system to ascertain the legal status of their employees, increase the Border Patrol by an additional 8,000 officials, and train state and local police to enforce immigration laws. This number of new border agents would move the current total to 24,000, although it could be higher when past legislation and budget allocations are taken into consideration. The Democrat Shuler has teamed up to craft this legislation with the recalcitrant xenophobe Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo who based his failed presidential bid on a thoroughly anti-immigrant platform.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, considered a liberal from California's Bay Area, has expressed opposition to enforcement-only measures, but would embrace some of the principles without being specific. She clearly feels responsible to provide political cover to these Blue Dog conservative Democrats and protect them from a Republican onslaught using the immigration issue to tilt voters in their direction. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, from Texas, is one of the 48 Democratic co-sponsors of this right-wing legislation, for example. The irony is that he won his seat by beating out an incumbent Republican of Mexican American origin through mobilizing the Latino community, many of whom participated in the massive marches in 2006 to defeat HR4437, the Sensenbrenner Bill. Pelosi risks alienating the party's Latino and immigrant base if she goes too far past the political center to accomplish her goals.
Senator Robert Menendez,a New Jersey Democrat, one of three Latino senators, has been a stalwart opponent of draconian approaches that demonize immigrants and is expected to hold the line against similar senate versions. However, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has been characteristically quiet and less than united in responding to these initiatives in both chambers. It is rumored that some legislators within the caucus may be designing their own package. The fear is that they may error again too far in favor of accepting so-called trade offs – stringent enforcement in exchange for less than inclusive legalization schemes.
The Democrats should take heart in the fact that the most recent pattern of election results, when immigration has been used to motivate conservative voters, demonstrates that the majority electorate is not so easily manipulated to the tune of opportunistic politicians and candidates. The extreme conservative Republican presidential candidates – Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter – never even scored a 1% response favorable to their candidacies. And, they were unceremoniously booted from the campaign trail.