May 28 2006

Just go away: Immigration, the issue

Published by at 3:41 pm under Washington

You can never tell conclusively what has legs and what doesn’t, but you get the growing impression that for major candidates and political leaders, immigration is increasingly looking like the obnoxious party guest you’d really rather went away.

For the moment at least, it remains a hot button. It was enough, in Idaho, to vault Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vasquez (it was his only substantial issue) into second place in a field of six; but it wasn’t enough for a win. It was enough to interest the candidates for governor of Oregon a couple of months earlier, but the candidate who initially seemed to make the big splash with it – Republican Ron Saxton – used it but little toward the end, and it felt more like an unwanted appendix on the scene as election day drew near.

There’s a constituency there, a group for whom illegal visitors to this country is topic A. But it is a piece of the electorate only, and too direct an appeal to that group – put another way, too blatant an assault against those here illegally – can put off and turn off larger groups of people. It’s a delicate line. Saxton in Oregon and congressional primary winner Bill Sali in Idaho managed it, each probably picking up some support from that interested crowd without seeming cruel or bigoted.

Will Washington manage the challenge?

The delicate line was something party leadership clearly had in mind as it met for its convention and platform decisions, both this weekend. The issue is toughest for Republicans, because Republican President George W. Bush has proposed a relatively open program which could lead to citizenship, while a significant piece of that party is appalled by the idea. If Washington Republican Chair Diane Tebelius could dictate, she probalby would seek a party plank that smoothed over the differences, or tried to.

No go. The Washington Republicans passed a proposal calling for no citizenship for babies of illegal immigrants born within the United States (which, as state Attorney General Ron McKenna pointed out, runs counter to the federal constitutions). More significant than that was some of the debate, which got ugly in places. Consider this items from David Postman’s blog:

When another delegate said it would be impractical to deport all those workers, the sponsor of the amendment said, “We let them take themselves back. They brought themselves in. If they want to be legal we let them do it the right way.”

On babies, a Spokane delegate told the convention that in Southern California hospitals are “flooded with illegal aliens trying to have babies.” She said the problem is spreading to Washington. “They are called anchor babies and once they are born they can get welfare and all sorts of stuff.” She later said that people who are white are being denied benefits given “to people who are brown.”

Some at the convention suggested none of this would hurt the party with key Hispanic voters. The guess here is that some of this, some of the quotes especially, may not go over very well.

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