Major Provisions of Minor Import

Debra J. Saunders

6/15/2007 12:01:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders

There's a way in which journalists insert how they think Americans should stand on an issue, and you see it in stories on the Kennedy-Kyl immigration bill that tanked so spectacularly in Washington last week.

Many newspapers reported that opinion polls showed that voters supported "major provisions" of the measure -- usually without mentioning that polls also found that more voters opposed the bill than supported it.

That fact gets in the way of the pet media narrative: Popular pro-immigrant bill torpedoed by what the Los Angeles Times called a "vocal minority." A Sunday New York Times story explained how grassroots conservatives toppled the measure, even though: "Public opinion polls, including a New York Times-CBS News Poll conducted last month, showed broad support among Americans for the bill's major provisions."

What a crock. If this bill were popular, then Washington would have passed it in a heartbeat. If the bill were popular among Democrats, as bill supporters suggest, then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would be pushing for another vote, instead of daring President Bush to champion the measure.

And here's something the New York Times story forgot to mention: Its poll also found that 69 percent of Americans think illegal immigrants should be prosecuted and deported.

No story there, I see. Pollster Scott Rasmussen found that 50 percent of voters opposed the immigration bill, while only 23 percent approved of it. "The immigration bill failed because a broad cross-section of the American people is opposed to it," Rasmussen wrote. "Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters are opposed. Men are opposed. So are women. The young don't like it; neither do the no-longer-young. White Americans are opposed. Americans of color are opposed."

While most Americans may support giving illegal immigrants the ability to become citizens if they work and have no criminal record -- a major provision cited in widely reported polls -- what voters really want is less illegal immigration and stronger border enforcement. Rasmussen found that only 16 percent of voters believed the Kennedy-Kyl bill would do that.

Rasmussen summed up the public attitude as, "What difference does it make what rules we have, if anyone can walk in anyhow?"

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a supporter of the failed immigration bill, was in San Francisco Tuesday. At a press conference, McCain repeated the vocal-minority versus silent-majority argument, when he said, "A majority of Americans support our proposal."

And: "I understand there's a very intense minority, that this is their No. 1 emotional issue. I wish we could have more rational, more dignified dialogue on this issue throughout the country."

When I asked McCain if he meant to imply that bill opponents are irrational and emotional, he answered, "I didn't mean to imply that at all."

I am not the first person to wonder if Bush, McCain and Democrats who support Kennedy-Kyl would have stood a better chance getting an immigration bill passed if they simply had called the bill an "amnesty" measure and made their case to the American people.

McCain would have none of that. He repeated his argument that the Kennedy-Kyl bill is not an amnesty bill for illegal immigrants -- because they would have to return to their country of origin, learn English and pay a fine. The status quo, he added, represents "silent amnesty," as it allows an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants to stay in America anyway.

Points well taken, except "silent amnesty" does not confer citizenship. As former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said at the last GOP debate, "It's simply not fair to say those people get put ahead in the line of all the people who've been waiting legally to come to this country."

Besides, the Senate began work on this bill with the goal of legalizing illegal immigrants -- not with an eye toward beefing up border enforcement.

And voters know that. On Wednesday, CNN's Jack Cafferty repeated the bogus narrative: "A new poll shows a majority of Americans support allowing illegal immigrants to become citizens if they pay fines, learn English and meet other requirements. How will this affect the stalled immigration bill?"

The answer is: It will have no effect whatsoever, because Washington pols know what many journalists cannot begin to grasp. American voters don't want this bill. They want less, not more, illegal immigration.