BorderlineOne of the big poli-bloggers... Kevin Drum, maybe, or Josh Marshall... had a piece recently regarding the Republican Party's big problem with the immigration issue. (I'd like to give proper credit and even link to the piece, but I can't find it again at the moment.) The thrust of the piece is that while the GOP gets a great deal of mileage out of waving the illegal immigrant flag in front of their largely white, largely racist base, at the same time, the corporate core that makes up the real central power pushing the buttons and pulling the strings on the Republican Party has no desire to actually do anything substantive about illegal immigrants. The reason for this is simple: illegal immigrants represent cheap labor. Rich people, especially those that run large corporations, like cheap labor.
So, the essential conflict, as pointed out on this other blog I can't frickin find again right this second (rashen frashen frickin fracken) is this: the Repubs energize their lunatic base and send them screaming out to the polls by relentlessly shilling the notion that illegal immigrants are pouring across the border to steal American jobs. At the same time, the most powerful Repubs have no desire to do anything to prevent illegal immigrants pouring across the border to steal American jobs, because Americans want higher wages, better working conditions, and benefits, which wealthy Republican business owners prefer not to pay.
This is a fine analysis as far as it goes, and it does explain the problem that Bush has had selling his 'immigration amnesty' policy to the conservative base. The base (the millions of not particularly enlightened or even all that analytical folks out there who vote Republican in every election out of fear and greed, and who can always be stirred up by appeals to humanity's baser bigotries and prejudices) doesn't want any 'amnesty' for illegal immigrants -- they regard such border jumpers as heinous criminals, if not the forefront of an invading barbarian horde, and they want them dealt with harshly, just like they want everyone else who offends against their essential sensibilities -- drug users, non-mainstream sexualities, unChristians, liberals -- dealt with harshly. They don't want to see these people forgiven and welcomed into legitimate, mainstream life; they want them arrested, beaten up, and then either thrown in jail or deported.
Bush's amnesty policy, which has at its centerpiece the fulsome phrase "guest workers", is perfectly designed to appeal to the wealthy, influential corporate interests that underwrote his campaign and that pull his strings in regard to every minute detail of his administration's economic policies. These powerful interests want to continue having access to a non-privileged, subordinate class they can exploit for cheap labor, and if Bush's plan were to go through, they could not only do this as they have since time immemorial, but they would also no longer be even peripherally troubled by the minor nuisance that such exploitation is actually illegal, and due to that they might, occasionally, suffer some social embarrassment (but never any actual legal repercussions, of course) if they were caught employing such folks at slave wages and in inhumane conditions.
Now, while the blog entry I read outlined all this elegantly and accurately (no doubt far more so than I've managed to recapitulate these points so far), it also left out another very important dimension to the Republican quandary over immigration, which is yet another reason why Bush (and his backers) urgently want to do something to legitimize 'illegals', without in any way offering them access to full status as American citizens -- immigrants who become citizens tend to vote Democrat.
Republicans, naturally, hate this, and this hatred is the central driver of the Administration's 'immigration amnesty/guest worker' plan -- one that nobody seems to be talking about. The conservative base that fuels Republican electoral victories with their votes are terrified of the brown hordes swarming to the south; the affluent, influential corporate core that underwrites Republican campaigns with their checkbooks is just as terrified of them, but for different reasons. The one resents 'spixicans' coming into 'our country' and stealing 'our jobs', the other absolutely dreads the notion of a few million Hispanics coming here legally to work, studying hard, passing their citizenship exams, getting the vote -- and pulling the levers en masse for anyone but the Republicans who want to keep them working in the fields for sub-minimum wage and no benefits.
When you understand this, you comprehend the full dimension of the Republican dilemma on immigration. Offer any kind of amnesty to illegal immigrants, and they will not only enrage and alienate their conservative base, they also risk having these illegals turn into citizens and voting Democrats. But there are no votes for Republican politicians (or not enough votes, anyway) if they push a limited amnesty program that will allow illegals to remain here, as 'guest workers' with no access to eventual citizenship. It's not that it looks nakedly exploitative, although it does; their extremist right wing base doesn't care about stuff like that, as long as it's Someone Else being exploited. In this case, however, even rabid conservatives are smart enough to understand that the way a guest worker program exploits 'spixicans' is to take American jobs away from Americans, and give them to the beaners who are willing to do them for much, much less. That no red blooded all American is going to stand for.
So the Republicans have stepped into their own bear trap for once -- they've sold so much hatred and fear of the imminent Mexican invasion to their base that they can't offer illegal immigrants any kind of amnesty without alienating millions of votes they badly need. On the other hand, they need to do something about the issue, since they've whipped their base into a frenzy about it -- but if they actually try to pass legislation further criminalizing the employment of illegals, or increasing border security to a point that it actually impacts the influx of illegals in any meaningful way, they will enrage their corporate sponsors, who foot all the campaign bills. Either way, they're fucked -- they need the base to vote (and occasionally, stage violent demonstrations to shut down recounts), and they need the core to keep writing checks.
The solution to the illegal immigration problem, of course, is to offer a generous, benevolent amnesty package welcoming all illegals to America with open arms and providing real incentives for these people to work hard, pay taxes, and study to eventually earn full citizenship. This is a long term win-win for everyone, as it builds our tax base and improves our relationship with our nearest, resource rich, heavily industrialized neighbor, and eventually, helps improve Mexico's economy as well. And, of course, whichever party pushed the program would reap a long-term electoral windfall one, two, and three generations in the future, measured in literally millions of new votes.
Of course, the Republicans can't embrace a total amnesty-open arms policy for the reasons already listed -- it infuriates and alienates their base and their corporate core simultaneously, because one faction wants all the beaners in jail, while the other one wants them working in fields and sweatshops for pennies an hour.
Democrats, on the other hand, are leery of such a policy because if they were to get out in front and really campaign on it, Republicans would then spin them as being weak on national security. I, personally, don't think an open borders/amnesty for all resident illegals policy would be the security disaster conservatives inevitably spin it as; nobody is talking about doing away with border patrols, and no matter what Don Rumsfield wants us to believe, weapons of mass destruction and/or their components are not easy to smuggle past any kind of reasonably well run checkpoint. It's not like you can hide a suitcase bomb in a sombrero, and anyway, our national security has been a joke for the past five years and we still haven't been hit since 9/11. If Al Qaeda can't blow something up after five years under this Administration, I doubt an illegal immigrants' amnesty is going to help them out much.
Democrats are terrified of looking weak on national security, though, because conservatives have owned this issue since 9/11... why, I couldn't tell you, given that the biggest failure of national security in the history of our nation happened on George Bush's watch, and ever since then, his administration's biggest contributions to national security seem to be brokering port deals the United Arab Republics, and blowing the cover of CIA agents in order to discredit political opponents.
Given that it should be fairly easy to turn national security into a winning issue for Democrats, but for that very reason, Dems may not want to put too much weight on the ice right now... as the late great Warren Oates once put it, "When you're walkin on eggs... don't hop." Beyond that, any analysis of this issue has to include the fact that an open arms policy is not much of a short term winner, politically. It certainly won't pick up any conservative votes for Dems, and the undecided swing voter so avidly courted by both parties will probably be more easily swayed by an appeal to fear than by one to reason, or American idealism, or helping out a lot of strangers because it will build a stronger tax base for future generations.
Short term, the people an open arms policy would help most, can't vote in the next several elections, at least. People who can and do vote will most likely be opposed to such a policy. In the end, the only reason to sponsor such an immigration policy is that, well, it's the right thing to do, and the epitome of what America, a nation built by, for, and of immigrants, is supposed to stand for.
Unfortunately, when doing the right thing costs political parties votes, they tend to look for a more pragmatic course. And as a nation, and perhaps even as a race, we Americans, and we humans, for that matter, have always demonstrated a remarkable ability to ignore long term interests in favor of more immediate gratifications... and Americans, perhaps more than any other people in history, show very little wisdom, en masse.
UPDATE: Having given this some more thought, and done some more reading around the blogosphere, I'm not sure my initial analysis as to the short term disadvantages of backing an amnesty are true. The Hispanic/Latino community is very family oriented; apparently a very large percentage of Hispanic Americans have strong connections to family members still living on the other side of the border, or who are here illegally. Those people would welcome an amnesty initiative; not one that effectively turns their loved ones into a slave labor class forever blocked from earning actual citizenship here, but a truly welcoming open door policy that would ease the restrictions on immigration for honest, hard working folks who want to come here (like all our ancestors did) to improve their lots, and those of their children. And those people are citizens and they WOULD vote... probably overwhelmingly, for any political party that made such an open borders/full amnesty immigration policy a platform plank in the next election.
Having said that, I still doubt the Democrats will have the nads to really push such a policy. They are well and truly terrified of that whole 'weak on national security' thing, and any relaxation of immigration policies is a natural to be spun that way. Still, the national response to this issues has been pretty extraordianry so far; eventually, even politicians as dumb as the donkey-riders have to wake up and smell a groundswell.