John Leo

Politicians from both parties think President Bush?s immigration plan is unusually deft, mostly because nearly every constituency seems to get something. Big business is assured an unending supply of cheap labor. Unions get the bonanza of millions more workers to organize. Bush?s credentials as a ?compassionate conservative? are more plausible than ever, and Republican plans to put forward more Latino candidates for political office will now look much less cynical. Republicans are seen as reaching out, not just to Latinos but to moderate white voters Bush will need in the fall. These are people whose voting patterns reflect a feelings-based liberalism and a conviction that Republicans are almost always too harsh and negative. Conservatives get assurance, however vague, that some sort of checks against illegal immigration will take hold and that Bush?s amnesty like guest-worker plan is not really another amnesty.

Major newspapers quickly stressed that the only loose end is that Bush now has to ?placate? his conservative base. The implication is that those opposed to massive illegal immigration are a small and backward minority. This is not the case. Polls show lopsided majorities of Americans want immigration reform and want illegal immigration controlled. A 2002 Zogby poll showed that 68 percent of Americans are so anxious about illegal immigration that they want to deploy troops along the border. But on hot-button social issues, Bush has a history of ignoring majorities and abandoning his base, and of backing the position of small but powerful
and largely Democratic elites.

Obviously, the White House thinks there is more hay to be made by adopting the elite position that illegals must be ?normalized? and treated like legal immigrants who played by the rules and waited their turn. Writing in the Washington Times, Stephen Dinan points out that 60 percent of Americans believe current immigration levels are a ?critical threat to the vital interests of the United States,? while only 14 percent of government officials, business leaders, and journalists think so.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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