Immigrant Rights News -- Tues, Oct. 10, 2006
Please note: IRN is sent out one to five times per week by National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. If you wish to continue (or discontinue) receiving IRN, please reply with your full contact info. Starting Friday, we will be sending out first-hand reports and analyses from Cd. Juarez where NNIRR staff and members will be participating in the Border Social Forum.
1. Border Social Forum website: http://www.forosocialfronterizo.com/
2. Wall Street Journal: "Arizona Targets Money Transfers In Coyote Probe"
3. San Antonio Express-News: "New 'Berlin Wall' finds few fans on the border"
4. The Nation: The Minutemen Hit the Wall
5. Washington Monthly: "Borderline Catastrophe"
Please visit the Border Social Forum Web Page, for updates and other information on the proceedings of the gathering starting this Thursday, October 12, 2006 through Sunday, October 15, 2006 in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua -- right across from El Paso, Texas.
Wall Street Journal
Arizona Targets Money Transfers In Coyote Probe
By VALERIE BAUERLEIN and JOEL MILLMAN
Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2006; Page B1
Thousands of money transfers handled by Western Union, the venerable company of telegram fame, have come under scrutiny by Arizona's attorney general, as the state moves to block payments to traffickers of illegal immigrants from Mexico.
A five-year probe by the state has resulted in hundreds of deportations, dozens of prosecutions of alleged traffickers, known as coyotes, and $17 million in seizures of cash, mostly from coyotes' safe houses.
In late September, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard moved to block electronic payments to traffickers by obtaining warrants to seize all Western Union money transfers of at least $500 going to the Mexican state of Sonora, directly south of the Arizona border, and originating in 29 U.S. states -- including California, New York, Florida, Illinois and Georgia.
Western Union is challenging the seizures, arguing that Arizona doesn't have legal authority to order them. U.S.-to-Mexico money transfers are a mainstay of Western Union's business, making up 10% of its money transfers. And the company says it isn't technically possible to block only those money transfers bound for Sonora, since a recipient with proper identification can pick up a transfer from a Western Union agent anywhere in Mexico.
The Arizona warrants were in effect for only three days before Western Union won a court stay of them. During that period, the attorney general seized some 260 money transfers from the U.S. to Sonora in sums ranging from $750 to several thousand dollars and totaling more than $200,000. State investigators determined that 50 of the seized transfers, or some 20%, were legitimate, allowed them to proceed and continued to hold the rest. A hearing on whether the state can seize more transfers is set for Oct. 30 in Arizona's Maricopa County Superior Court.
In court filings, Western Union called Arizona's use of the warrants a "threat of incalculable damages." The crackdown is harming innocent people, whose money is being held indefinitely, Western Union says. "Many of the people are just frightened," Chief Executive Christina Gold said in an interview. "Some of them don't speak English and are not sure what's going on." The company says it has complied fully with all U.S. laws and is cooperating with authorities investigating coyote operations.
The role Western Union and other U.S. businesses may play -- knowingly or not -- in greasing the wheels of illegal immigration is a red-hot issue. Arizona has surpassed Texas and California as the busiest state for undocumented entries, with an estimated three million illegal border-crossings last year. (Many crossings are the second, third or fourth attempt by one individual.)
The Arizona probe also highlights the potential downside of Western Union's dependence on 270,000 independent agents in 195 countries, who are paid on commission and often run a Western Union counter as a sideline to a grocery store, gas station or check-cashing outlet. The company moved $42 billion around the world last year, making it by far the biggest player in the $250 billion global money-transfer business, with ease of use and global reach its stock in trade.
An Arizona sting last year found that some Western Union clerks took bribes in exchange, for example, for accepting bogus or shodd identification from a recipient. And a state audit found that in certain outlets more than half of the recipients of money transfers used fake Social Security cards to pick up funds. Last month, Western Union agreed to pay $3 million to end a state probe that uncovered shoddy recordkeeping and money-transfer agents who accepted illegible ID cards.
Still, Western Union says Arizona has no legal basis to restrict money transfers in other states. The company says it devotes 200 employees and $35 million annually to compliance with financial regulations and law-enforcement requests and goes to great lengths to comply with Arizona's "exceedingly strict" regulations, such as fingerprinting wire-transfer recipients when they pick up money in the state.
Western Union says there isn't much it can do about money transferred legally over its network but that may be part of an illegal enterprise. "We are not ... law enforcement agents," Western Union said in a statement. "In many instances, only the government has a full view of the facts which would lead to a conclusion that inappropriate behavior is occurring."
The legal impasse comes at a bad time for Western Union. Just a few weeks ago, the Englewood, Colo., company was spun off from data-processor First Data Corp., and its share price has been lackluster. On Friday, Western Union closed at $19.57 in 4 p.m. composite trading on the New York Stock Exchange, slightly below the $20 price when shares were issued in September. Last month, Western Union warned investors that money transfers year-to-date between the U.S. and Mexico grew only 3% compared with a year earlier, and domestic transactions dropped 4% -- a poor harbinger for the third quarter.
In court filings, Arizona authorities estimate that 95% of illegal border crossers contract with trafficking organizations. These coyotes charge an average fee of $1,600 to bring clients, known as pollos, or "chickens," over the border. The Attorney General's office contends that coyotes typically hold clients in Phoenix and Tucson until somebody -- usually a friend or an employer who has agreed to finance the journey -- wires payment.
During late winter and early spring, the peak smuggling period, Arizona officials calculate that more than $4.5 million in fees are paid every day to coyotes operating in the state. Authorities contend that since Arizona stepped up various enforcement measures last year, tens of millions of dollars in transfers that previously might have been picked up within the state instead have headed to Western Union outlets in Sonora, as coyotes have moved to evade state authorities.
Over a two-month period in early 2005, $28 million was wired from the U.S. to Sonora, where Western Union licenses 201 authorized outlets, according to Western Union data included in a government court filing. The Arizona Attorney General says $19 million -- or 67% of the total -- was wired to just eight Western Union agents in five Mexican cities, including Agua Prieta, Caborca and San Luis Rio Colorado -- all "launching pads" on or near the Arizona border where groups of immigrants gather to cross illegally.
In the Sonoran city of Altar, a bustling town 50 miles south of Sasabe, a border village that is a popular crossing point, one Western Union customer received $68,000 in 34 payments over a two-month period, or $2,000 every two days. "The apparent brazen activity of pick-up operators in northern Sonora is no doubt due to the complete lack of law-enforcement investigation of wires sent to those locations," states an affidavit sworn by Daniel Kelly, a financial crimes investigator with the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
Spurred by those findings, Mr. Goddard, the state Attorney General, early this year began ordering Western Union to fingerprint recipients, demand multiple forms of identification and take other precautions. Frustrated that transfers to coyotes appeared to be shifting outside Arizona, Mr. Goddard moved to begin seizing transfers from other states in September. Western Union responded by seeking court relief.
"It's gone from 'amicable' and 'in discussions' to bringing this to court," says Mr. Goddard, who adds he still hopes to negotiate a settlement with Western Union.
Write to Valerie Bauerlein at email@example.com and Joel
Millman at firstname.lastname@example.org
San Antonio Express-News
New 'Berlin Wall' finds few fans on the border
Web Posted: 10/07/2006 11:13 PM CDT
Jesse Bogan and Mariano Castillo
Express-News Staff Writers
HIDALGO - If there was a place along the winding Rio Grande to justify the controversial fence Congress and President Bush have authorized, it seems Sonny Miller's ranch would be it.
Nine people, most of them Salvadorans, drowned when their smuggler drove a 1987 Crown Victoria into a nearby irrigation canal two years ago. And Miller has a photo of 60 immigrants detained on his property this summer.
Like many South Texas ranchers, he built stairs over a pasture fence so it wouldn't get trampled.
Clearly, there's a lot of foot traffic, yet Miller, 72, is among residents and leaders from both sides of the border - not to mention the rest of the Americas - who are riled up over the "Berlin Wall," as many call the proposed structure.
"It's a waste of money," said Miller, who used to farm vegetables and cotton but now just raises a few cattle. "They'll either go through it, over it or under it."
Rancher Sonny Miller of Hidalgo says he doesn't support the planned border fence because immigrants will find a way to get in.
The Senate recently joined the House in passing the Secure Fence Act, which calls for 700 miles of fencing along the southern border, including large stretches in Texas - from Laredo to Brownsville, Del Rio to Eagle Pass, and El Paso into New Mexico.
In an election year, the bill was designed to please voters anxious about homeland security, primarily conservatives who long have sought a border clampdown. But the fence's construction is far from a sure thing, and with the exception of those who would build it, support for it appears almost non-existent along the border.
Although 700 miles were authorized, no money was included in the bill. A separate bill signed Wednesday by President Bush appropriated $1.2 billion for border security, which can - but doesn't have to - be used for a fence.
Many questions remain. How close to the river would the fence be built? Will the government condemn private property? What about the long stretches of rough terrain that experts say isn't appropriate for such a barrier? What about environmental concerns?
Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, both Texas Republicans, got assurances the Homeland Security Department will have broad discretion on whether to build the fence and will consult with state and local officials on its location.
"It's all a complex thing, but I think at this point the focus ought to be on appreciation that Congress has finally done something," said Pennsylvania-based Colin Hanna, president of the Web site WeNeedAFence.com, acknowledging that "a year ago, we were just about the only organization advocating a fence, and the idea was very much on the fringe of the debate."
Now he is confident the money needed to build it - an estimated $2 billion to $7 billion - will be approved.
Many foes in Texas and Mexico, however, said the fence ignores the root causes of immigration, is not neighborly, and ultimately would jack up the going rate for smugglers who guide immigrants here or foster more attempts to corrupt officials on international bridges.
Among people interviewed along the border after Senate passage of the Secure Fence Act, those who saw no downside to the fence generally were able to cross the border legally, didn't care to cross the border, or were enthused about financial or employment opportunities stemming from the project.
Brownsville Mayor Eddie Treviño Jr. said fences could be helpful in certain areas, but he described the wall as an "attempt to institutionalize discrimination and racism."
"We spent 40 years trying to tear down the Berlin Wall, and here we are building one (against) our second-largest trading partner," he said, blaming Congress for failing to address comprehensive immigration reform, including a bolstered guest worker program and better pathways to citizenship.
Across the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Matias Miss, a manager of a shelter for undocumented immigrants, said border-area residents shouldn't have a problem with the wall because most have laser visas that allow them to shop, eat and visit with families in the 25-mile border zone of South Texas.
"If I have a house and put up a fence, I am going to feel more secure, and that doesn't mean I can't be a good neighbor," said Miss, 38.
The burden, he said, will fall heaviest on the residents of his shelter, Casa San Juan Diego, some of whom have endured rape, robbery and hunger during their long trips north fueled by dreams of construction, agricultural and service jobs.
They include people like Patricio Vázquez, 23. A farm laborer with a sick mother, he sold a few cows and his stereo and borrowed money from relatives to fund a trip from rural Veracruz state, only to be robbed of his $2,000 on the Rio Grande's banks.
Vázquez said the wall wouldn't be fair, because "we all have a right to eat and have a normal life without so much poverty."
Eduardo Hinojosa Cepeda, mayor of Camargo, a Mexican border town of 20,000, asked, "What would the United States do without our manual labor?"
Hinojosa, a dual citizen born in McAllen, said the wall is bad for the "brother countries" because it makes it look like the United States "doesn't want anything to do with Mexico."
Reynaldo Clemente Cavazos, director of the country club in Reynosa, Mexico, a large border city and manufacturing center, said he already feels like a delinquent when he crosses because of close questioning by U.S. officials at the bridge. It would worsen with a fence, he said.
He compared the tide of undocumented immigrants to the bustling narcotics trade, saying they couldn't be held back by force because they are pulled by U.S. demand.
"Mexico is the diving board, and the United States is the swimming pool," he said.
Across the river, Steve Ahlenius, president of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, called the wall a "19th-century solution to a 21st-century problem" and said it could erode the local $2 billion retail economy, to which Mexicans contribute a third.
"How it hurts us economically is, the image that we send to Mexico is that, 'We are going to build a wall and we don't want you here,'" he said, adding that the perceived cold shoulder could cause shoppers who make several trips a year to cut back.
Ahlenius finds it hard to believe anyone locally could support the wall, and he said lawmakers who voted for it are "scared about what they think America is becoming."
"People are afraid that America is being more brown. ... This is a country where there has always been opportunity, there has always been freedom, and (when) we start to wall up things and to block things off - we are losing what we really stand for."
In Laredo, Ray Segura, owner of Segura Fence Co., said he's eager to compete for government contracts to help build the fence. He already has teamed up with a San Antonio company to submit a bid.
"There's going to be a lot of contracts, there's going to be a lot of bidding, there's going to be a lot of action," Segura said.
He said that based on his experience, the fence probably would be built on an easement along the river that the government owns and runs along the entire border, usually 30 to 50 feet wide.
He estimated it would take about two to three months per mile of construction for a thick wire fence with holes too small to fit a boot in; twice as long if it is a double fence, as Congress wants.
Also standing to gain was a shirtless man with a tattoo of a bat on his chest.
He was drinking beer last week with two colleagues along the river where smugglers commonly bring immigrants in rafts from the Mexican town of Miguel Alemán to the Texas town of Roma.
The self-described "patero," or smuggler, sat among trash, just beyond the reach of flies buzzing around a dead animal.
"We aren't politicians, we are ruffians. It's going to be more difficult (to cross), but it's going to cost more money," said the man, who appeared to be about 40 and declined to give his name.
"If they want to spend the money on the wall," he said with the flick of a hand, "then spend it."
The Nation, October 23, 2006 issue
posted October 5, 2006 (October 23, 2006 issue)
The Minutemen Hit the Wall
As about sixty supporters of Democratic Congressional candidate and businesswoman Gabrielle Giffords gathered in late September for a wine and guacamole fundraiser at a local hillside home, their mood was nothing short of electric. Earlier in the day a news report had swept through this desert district with all the drama and punch of a late summer monsoon: The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) had just canceled about $1 million in planned TV ads for Giffords's GOP rival, Randy Graf. "The Republicans have firmly planted the white flag in this district," said a jubilant Giffords campaign official. "This is nothing short of surrender."
Indeed, the Washington Post's political blog has identified Arizona's 8th Congressional District seat, held for eleven terms by retiring moderate Republican Jim Kolbe, as one of those most likely to switch parties in next month's mid-term elections. Even more important, in a race seen as a national bellwether on the immigration debate, Republican candidate Graf, supported with $40,000 in contributions from a Minuteman PAC, banked his entire campaign on a virulent seal-and-militarize-the-border message. If the anti-immigrant pitch was going to work anywhere in America, this would be the place. The contested district sweeps downward from Tucson, runs along an eighty-mile portion of the Mexican border that is the most trafficked of illegal crossings, and includes such Minuteman hot spots as the towns of Sierra Vista and Tombstone. About half of the illegal aliens apprehended on the US-Mexico border attempt to cross into Arizona, and anti-immigrant sentiment can turn red-hot.
But here in the veritable staging ground of the Minuteman movement, Graf's campaign has hit the wall. "Randy's going to get his ass handed to him," says a veteran Arizona Republican consultant. "And in this national atmosphere, the NRCC isn't about to piss away a million bucks on him." The refusal by the national Republican Party to invest in Graf was fueled by some pretty stark numbers, and to a great degree reflects the deep division that runs through the GOP on the issue of immigration.
A late September poll conducted by the Arizona Daily Star showed Giffords out in front of Graf by a whopping 48-35 margin. And while immigration even outranked the war in Iraq by 4 to 1 as the most important issue on local voters' minds, those who put it first also gave a majority to Giffords, who has endorsed the sort of comprehensive border reform proposed by Senators Ted Kennedy and John McCain.
"Graf speaks directly to his base, but only to his base," says the GOP consultant. "If something freakish were to happen in the next few weeks and this guy were actually to get elected, it would be a disaster for us. Right-wing tirades in a border area like this make Republicans look like crackers. With more and more people coming to live in Arizona and many of them at least slightly liberal, Republicans can't afford to sound like racists."
Fear among the Republican establishment that Graf was too extreme to win in a moderate district was heightened in this crucial year, when the loss of any seat could tip the balance of the House majority. This is a socially temperate district that sometimes gave the openly gay Republican Kolbe more than 60 percent of the vote. In 2004 Graf--a former pro golfer and state legislator--challenged Kolbe in the primary and won a surprising 42 percent of the vote. The day after the vote, Graf started gearing up for his next shot, the 2006 primary. He campaigned relentlessly and single-mindedly on the border issue, praising the Minutemen and tightly aligning himself with the policies of Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo, the leader of House resistance to liberalized immigration reform.
"Randy Graf was in the right place at the right time to capitalize on the immigration issue," says Margaret Kenski, pollster for Republican Arizona Senator Jon Kyl. Graf, whose campaign wouldn't schedule an interview with The Nation, cashed in on the national immigration debate that roared through much of this year. And in a five-way primary September 12, Graf came out on top, with a 42 percent plurality. In an unusual move, the NRCC had intervened directly in the primary and poured more than $120,000 into the campaign of his more moderate opponent Steve Huffman--the only race in the country in which the NRCC took sides in a primary. Other top local Republicans lined up with local GOP stalwart Mike Hellon in a move to stop Graf.
But the organizational power of anti-immigration, anti-choice and conservative mega-churches propelled Graf's victory and also helped defeat a number of other moderate and prochoice Arizona Republican candidates. It also laid bare the GOP's deep factional fissures. "We're really in a state of internal warfare," says a former Republican National Committee member still active in local politics. "It's really the most extreme Republicans who are winning the primaries, and they're making it harder and harder for us to win statewide offices. We've been through this two or three times already, but after each round it is getting harder to put the party back together again."
Scrapping Reagan's so-called Eleventh Commandment enforcing GOP unity, outgoing Representative Kolbe, a firm supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, pointedly un-endorsed Graf on the morrow of his victory, saying that because of "profound and fundamental [differences] I would not be true to my own principles were I to endorse [Graf] now for the general election." Neither will any endorsement be forthcoming from the state's most popular Republican, John McCain. Nor from a host of other elected Arizona Republican officials who openly shun Graf.
Apart from Graf's in-the-tank numbers, he still draws loud jeers from his 2004 appearance on The Daily Show, where he argued to overturn an Arizona law that bans handguns in bars. On the same show he blithely compared the Constitution to a rule book for golf. An unsolicited link to his campaign website from the site of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke hasn't helped matters.
Arizona Republicans find themselves endangered in other races beyond the 8th district match-up between Graf and Giffords. Conservative six-term Representative J.D. Hayworth, who represents the Phoenix suburbs and whose book Whatever It Takes calls for a ban on legal immigration from Mexico, is facing a serious challenge from Democrat Harry Mitchell. Former Republican Attorney General Grant Woods has endorsed Democrat Mitchell, calling Hayworth "ridiculous." Even more disturbing to Arizona Republicans is the predicament of Kyl, a recent target of Latinos protesting his immigration policies. Kyl faces a stiff challenge from wealthy Democratic developer Jim Pederson. "Frankly, I'm amazed how competitive Kyl's race has suddenly become," says the veteran GOP consultant. And Republican social conservative Len Munsil will need divine intervention to defeat incumbent Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano, last seen outpolling him 56 to 40.
Back in the 8th district, meanwhile, Democrat Gabi Giffords won a contested primary by firmly seizing the political center vacated by Graf's campaign. A former state legislator (and a former Republican), Giffords has garnered the unified support of the local Democratic and labor machinery but has striven to run what she calls a bipartisan campaign. The national Democratic Party has become so confident of her victory that one day after the NRCC canceled its ad campaign for Graf, the DCCC followed suit on behalf of Giffords.
Already well funded and likely to be buoyed by outside "independent expenditure" campaigns, Giffords has de-emphasized the debate over the war in Iraq and has rather deftly co-opted Graf on the immigration issue. "Starting back in May of last year, the Democrats began pounding away on the border issue as if they were Republicans," says pollster Kenski. "And Gabi does it as well as any.
"Enforcement-plus" is the way Giffords describes her immigration position: tighter enforcement, plus an expanded visa and guest-worker program. But listening to Giffords address her campaign supporters at that hillside fundraiser, it sounded like "enforcement" was 90 percent of the equation and that the "plus" was maybe 10 percent. After denouncing a "strategic systematic decision" by the federal government to funnel immigrants through the Arizona desert, she went on to say it's "just not acceptable to have so many people that we don't know who they are, we don't know where they are going and we don't know what they want." To stem the tide, she called for more "radar, aerial drones, electronic surveillance, tough employer sanctions"--and, yes, "a guest-worker program."
During the question-and-answer session, some of the gathered supporters were disgruntled with Giffords's emphasis on enforcement hardware but nevertheless seemed reassured by her clarifications that immigration reform also had to include expanded legal pathways. "I'd rather she put the emphasis on the second part," said one of her toughest questioners. "But you have to suppose she's saying what's she's saying because she wants to get elected. I also support that."
The Giffords campaign coincides with a Latino voter mobilization already under way as a result of this past spring's upsurge in pro-immigrant demonstrations. As many as 15,000 came out to Tucson street rallies in April to support liberalized border reform. "It's a hot enough issue that people want to go out and take action. Being part of this campaign is one of those actions," says Daniel Garcia, a volunteer with the Giffords campaign and with a local affiliate of the grassroots Industrial Areas Foundation. "With Graf and the Minutemen blaming just about everything including global warming on immigrants," he says, "this race has absolutely become a place where a lot of emotion has surfaced, and we are channeling that into the campaign." Giffords also has the solid support of the local Democratic political network headed by Representative Raúl Grijalva, one of the strongest voices for immigration reform.
Democrat Tom Volgy, former Tucson mayor and now a university professor, argues that Giffords's ascension in this southern Arizona district should be unequivocally cheered as a national example. While close-the-border intransigence by the Republican right succeeded in torpedoing comprehensive immigration reform, it has now seemingly boomeranged to the GOP's disadvantage as an electoral strategy. "Arizona is the most hard hit by immigration," Volgy says. "But what you see here highlights something really good about the American people. You take a very difficult issue that lends itself to simplistic arguments, but the more you subject it to debate, the more sophisticated and nuanced public opinion becomes. This is the really great part of what's happening here."
How the fight over immigration blew up Rove's big tent.
By Rachel Morris
Karl Rove's storied partnership with George W. Bush, now in its second decade, has long been concerned with more momentous matters than simply winning elections. Famously, Rove has sought to engineer a seismic realignment in American politics. To that end, he's perfected two signature strategies. He's mastered a "base-in" approach, designing policy positions first for the party's core conservatives, then marketing them to moderates (in contrast to the "center-out" model preferred by Bill Clinton). At the same time, Rove has made ingenious appeals to new constituencies that he believed were already Republicans, but just didn't know it. Because these tactics defy all kinds of conventional wisdom and have delivered Bush a string of victories, they've won Rove a reputation for political genius. Stories about him invariably make dazzled references to his latest scheme to bring some unlikely group into the GOP fold: black conservatives, Arabs in Michigan, outlier Jews.
But for Republicans eyeing a long-term majority, the Hispanic vote is considered the real prize, particularly immigrant Hispanics. While two thirds of registered U.S.-born Hispanics reliably vote Democratic, foreign-born Hispanics remain up for grabs. This group now comprises nearly half the Latino electorate, which has tripled between 1980 and 2004 to 10 million voters; that figure is expected to double by 2020. For Republicans, this growth is especially important, because their core constituency-white voters-is in demographic decline. But what makes Hispanic voters so coveted by both parties is also their location on a stratified electoral map. As the last two presidential contests have demonstrated, the Democrats have a lock on the Northeast and California, while Republicans hold the South; the two parties split the Midwest. The real battleground is the West and Southwest, traditionally GOP regions that have been drifting leftward, partly because of their growing concentrations of Hispanic residents. If one party wins their loyalty, the theory goes, it holds the key to a generation of political dominance.
Rove and Bush understood the importance of Hispanic voters and have courted them earnestly. That's not an easy task. Puerto Ricans don't vote like Cubans; Mexican Americans in Texas are very different from Mexican Americans in California. But one issue has the potential to attract significant Latino support or provoke their opposition: immigration. After Bush won the White House in 2000, he repeatedly promised to enact a guest-worker program and some form of legalization for the undocumented. In a rare occurrence for this administration, the imperatives of Republican politics actually aligned with something resembling sound public policy. It's not so far-fetched to say that the GOP's future rested with Bush and Rove's ability to make that policy happen.
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Nor is it too overwrought to say that Rove's grand designs have disintegrated. For most of this year, the Republican Party has been publicly waging an ugly internal fight over immigration. Like the president-and, polls show, most Americans-a bipartisan coalition in the Senate supports comprehensive reform. But House Republicans, fearful of their inflamed base, won't budge from an enforcement-only measure that in March and April propelled thousands of Hispanics into the streets. This April, former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie penned a dire warning to his party in The Wall Street Journal: "Anti-immigration rhetoric is a political siren song, and Republicans must resist its lure," he wrote, "or our majority will crash on the shoals." But instead of working with the Senate to actually pass legislation, this summer, Republican representatives have been traveling to competitive districts to hold hearings with titles like, "Should We Embrace the Senate's Grant of Amnesty to Millions of Illegal Aliens and Repeat the Mistakes of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986?" Even if Congress scrapes together a face-saving compromise before November, the damage to the GOP's standing with Latinos can't be so quickly repaired-already, a recent poll by NDN showed that Bush's support among Spanish-speaking Hispanics has dropped almost by half.
It's become a journalistic truism that the House's theatrics will hurt the Republicans in the long-term, but will at least provide the boost they need to hold Congress in November. A closer look suggests that even that latter assumption is doubtful (see "Base Instinct"). Historians may look back at the GOP's struggle over comprehensive reform and pronounce it the moment when its chances for an enduring majority slipped from its grasp. It's worth asking how the Republicans got into this mess -and what it says about the sustainability of the Karl Rove brand of politics.
The American public agrees on very few things, but the need to do something about immigration forms a rare island of consensus. What that something might be provokes a more fractured response. Although a strain of anti-immigrant sentiment runs throughout the population, in recent times at least, its most uncompromising advocates tend to belong to the Republican Party. Time and time again, the GOP has been seduced by the antics of its nativist wing, with disastrous results.
This happened most notoriously in the mid-1990s, when then-governor of California, Pete Wilson, facing an uphill re-election battle, embraced Proposition 187, a state ballot initiative denying social services to legal and illegal immigrants. Both Wilson and Proposition 187 won, prompting House Republicans to attempt a similar stunt. They clamored for a harsh immigration bill and welfare reforms denying benefits to legal immigrants. Bill Clinton vetoed welfare legislation twice because of these demands. Eventually, he signed both bills, but later restored most of the benefits, portraying his party as the champion of immigrants. In 1996, Clinton returned to the White House with 72 percent of the Hispanic vote, collecting Arizona and Florida along the way. In California, Wilson's crusade prompted Hispanics to register to vote in record numbers. With the maverick exception of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the state has been solidly blue ever since.
There were few more attentive students of these lessons than Karl Rove and George W. Bush. As governor of Texas, Bush denounced Wilson and Proposition 187 and spoke warmly of the contributions that Hispanics had made to Texas. He was rewarded with nearly half the Hispanic vote in his second gubernatorial campaign. Seeking to replicate this success in 2000, Bush became fond of remarking to reporters that "family values don't stop at the Rio Grande." His overtures paid off. Whereas Bob Dole won just 21 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1996, Bush, according to exit polls, captured 35 percent.
Everything in moderation
In order to get elected, aspiring presidents often say things that anger their base. Bush did that in two main ways. His education policy, with its prescription for a stronger federal role in local schools, angered believers in small government. And his immigration proposals, with their emphasis on guest-worker provisions rather than border security, were anathema to the party's nativists. More than anything else, these two platforms signaled to voters that Bush would be a moderate.
At first, it looked like Bush planned to be. He tapped Hispanics for cabinet posts and made his first foreign visit to Mexico to meet with Vicente Fox. He even reportedly considered an amnesty (back then, people still used the word) for around three million Mexican workers. But after conservatives complained-Sen. Phil Gramm declared that an amnesty would proceed over his "cold, dead political body"-Bush wavered. "When he got some rollback from the real conservative base, he backed off," said Dick Armey, the former House majority leader, who had urged Bush to stand his ground. "He didn't allow himself to be the largest voice in the country on the subject."
When Fox visited the United States in the first week of September 2001, he and Bush discussed a guest-worker program, increased visa quotas for Mexicans, a mechanism allowing some undocumented workers to "normalize," and heightened border security. But instead of reaching a bilateral agreement, as was once anticipated, the "two amigos" merely mapped the outlines of sweeping reform.
Then came September 11. As the nation rallied around Bush, his hand was strengthened immeasurably. In retrospect, this was probably Bush's best chance to push for comprehensive reform, at a time when the conservative base would have been least able to resist. "Had he done [immigration] in 2002, he would have had more credibility," said Kate O'Beirne, the Washington editor of National Review. "He could have sold both guest worker and citizenship as security issues." But instead of challenging his base, Bush fed it with tax cuts. For the next two years, immigration virtually vanished from the president's public agenda, resurfacing only as his reelection campaign took shape at the end of 2003.
In January 2004, Bush again called for a guest worker program in his State of the Union speech. When a president includes a message like this in a major election-year address, it usually means one of two things: He is telling lawmakers that he wants action, or he is merely signaling to a constituent group that he has their interests at heart. In this case, Bush appears to have been doing the latter-immigration never became a major feature of his campaign. However, at least a few lawmakers seemed to have taken him seriously. In July, Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) offered an initiative called AgJobs, which would have created a path to legal residency for half a million farm workers. Although 63 senators (including 27 Republicans) backed AgJobs, the White House, reportedly nervous about touching anything resembling an amnesty that year, asked Majority Leader Bill Frist to prevent the measure from coming to a vote. Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain, (R-Ariz), along with two Arizona Republicans in the House, Reps. Jim Kolbe and Jeff Flake, began working on a comprehensive bill. Towards the end of the term, a small group of House Republicans attempted to persuade the White House to translate Bush's stirring talk on immigration into concrete proposals, according to a former chief of staff to a GOP representative. But the White House responded evasively, refusing even to tell the group what types of measures it might potentially support, the staffer said, adding: "I don't believe they showed leadership at that time."
As election day approached, Rove mounted an extraordinary effort to rouse the base to maximum strength. This required a very different style from the soft-focus conservatism of 2000. Because conservative backing underpinned Bush's entire re-election strategy, this time he could afford few diversions from the party line. His prescription-drug benefit, an affront to the small government wing, used up his minimal allowance for crossing his base.
At the same time, Rove aimed to supplement conservative support, not by concentrating on swing voters as he had done in 2000, but by making targeted appeals to what he considered persuadable constituencies. To that end, Bush continued to say all the right things to Hispanics. While the Democrats' Hispanic outreach focused on promoting specific policies, Rove produced sophisticated, issue-light TV ads that projected messages of inclusion and respect, delivered by Bush in Spanish. The seeming brilliance of this approach was that Bush could reach out to Latinos without really promising them anything-and without arousing much ire from restrictionists. Rove's plan appeared to work beautifully. Strong conservative turnout swept Bush back into office, along with a share of the Hispanic vote that increased to 40 percent-almost matching John Kerry among foreign-born Latinos.
In the weeks after Bush's victory, Rove's reputation as "the architect" was confirmed. It seemed that Republicans might really be about to embark on a period of extended dominance. Again Bush indicated that immigration would become a cornerstone of his term. The conditions seemed promising: At this point, he might have used his political capital to override objections from his nativist base and push for moderate immigration reform, boosting his share of the Hispanic vote in the process. Or he could heed the obsession of the party's small-government ideologues, who were urging him to privatize social security in order to destroy a traditional pillar of Democratic support. Both were, as Bush liked to say, political gamechangers, but only immigration required him to cross his base. Instead, he chose Social Security. This turned out to be a fateful decision: The plan proved irrevocably unpopular. Meanwhile, the consequences of the administration's decisions of the past four years began to set in. Iraq deteriorated, spending spiraled, corruption scandals unraveled. The administration's distrust of government resulted in a disastrously inept response to Hurricane Katrina. By the summer of 2005, Bush's poll ratings had plummeted, and events had spun beyond his control.
Until then, Rove's strategy of wooing Latinos without actually doing anything that might offend the conservative base had worked remarkably well-perhaps because his outreach to the base and to Hispanics had advanced along separate tracks. So far, he hadn't been confronted with anything that might cause these tracks to converge, forcing the disparate elements of the Republican voting coalition towards collision.
The convergence began on right-wing talk radio. By mid-2005, the medium was at somewhat of a loss. Normally its red meat consists, to put it baldly, of liberal-bashing and bellicose defenses of conservatives. But now the liberals had lost the election, and the causes conservatives had embraced-the war, the insistence on small, frugal government-weren't going so well. Casting around for something to talk about, hosts discovered the Minutemen. Illegal immigration has always been a perennial source of talk-radio outrage, but the Minutemen, with their warnings that terrorists could enter the country via Mexico, set off a veritable storm. Suddenly, the self-styled border patrols, along with their champion in the House, Rep. Tom Tancredo, became fixtures on radio shows and cable TV.
According to a former senior White House official, the administration became concerned by this phenomenon and conducted some research. Staffers listened to hours of talk radio and found that the obsession with illegal immigration on talk radio had appeared virtually from nowhere. "Two years ago, this wasn't on the radar screen," he said. House Republicans, already eyeing the midterm elections, also took note. By then, Tancredo's immigration-reform caucus had grown to more than 80 members (in 2001, it only had 15).
In August, the White House tried to push back. It tapped Gillespie, Armey and former Democratic Representative Cal Dooley to "do a 501(c)3"-as such efforts are known on the Hill-a non-profit lobbying campaign funded by corporate donations. However, although Bush has always strongly supported a guest-worker program, it's rarely noted that over the years his pronouncements on earned legalization or citizenship have become increasingly opaque. (His preferred formulation is now "bringing workers out of the shadows"). When approached for as much as $3 million in funding, business groups found that all the White House was offering in return were generalities-bullet points rather than detailed policy. Business groups withheld their cash, and the effort petered out.
However, the former Hill chief of staff said that it was embattled Majority Leader Tom DeLay "who played a key role-probably more than anyone else" in pushing an enforcement-only agenda to the foreground. According to three sources familiar with negotiations over the House bill, in early October, soon after he was indicted, DeLay told the Republican conference that representatives should make a border-security bill their strategy for the midterm elections. This may have startled some members, like Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. James Sensenbrenner and Speaker Dennis Hastert, who were known to be open to broader reform. "We'd always considered the Speaker kind of in our corner," said Rep. Flake. But before he stepped down as majority leader, DeLay insisted that the House pass legislation focused only on enforcement. The resulting bill was rushed through the Judiciary committee with no hearings. The leadership refused to allow a vote on any Republican amendments.
This seemed like the moment when Bush would make a stand. Instead, the former White House official said, the administration did some polling, and found that respondents seriously doubted Bush's commitment to securing the border. In November, the president flew to Tucson, Ariz., and gave a speech touting increased funding for detention, mentioning measures for immigrant workers only in passing. By then, the base didn't buy it. "[The response was] 'why is he talking about it now? It's been five years,'" said O'Beirne. "It sounds tinny, it feels insincere." On Dec. 16, after a two-day debate, Republicans rammed their bill through the House.
With the base unleashed, the White House was unable to broker a compromise, either by persuasion or by pressure. This spring, Karl Rove and Josh Bolten, the White House's newly appointed chief of staff, met with the Republican conference to pitch the president's plan. "People were booing and hissing," said the former House staffer. "That probably wouldn't have happened a year ago." Then in June, Brian Bilbray won the California House seat vacated by disgraced Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham. Bilbray had supported the enforcement-only approach against an opponent who supported comprehensive reform. "All of a sudden," said Flake, "Bilbray becomes our model."
In the future, people may look to Bilbray as the Pete Wilson of 2006, the superficial success story that Republicans imitated to their long-term detriment. Already, prominent GOP leaders are blaming House Republicans, particularly Rep. Tancredo, for leading the party to its ruin. Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, described Rep. Tancredo as "the face of the Republican party losing elections for the next 20 years." (He added that the GOP might have avoided this problem by "sending Tancredo to Guantanamo"). Armey put it more diplomatically. "A lot of Hispanics around the country are taking this very personally," he said. "They're saying, 'The problem with Republicans is that they just don't like us.' "
But perhaps the real casualty of the GOP's immigration meltdown is the Rovian model of Republican politics. Part of the near-mythic aura of infallibility surrounding Rove stems from the sense that his tactics seem to defy all known political laws-that it shouldn't be possible to reach out to minorities while fanning the flames of a base that is often hostile to them. And as it turns out, it probably isn't.
Rachel Morris is an editor of The Washington Monthly.
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