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yesh omrim

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The Bush immigration plan: Potemkin populism, again

9 January 2004

OK, everyone and his editor has pontificated about how the Bush immigration proposal is an attempt to convince more Hispanics to vote Republican, because if the Republicans don’t pick up more non-white voters in the long term then they will lose one election after another, etc., etc., etc. Nonsense.

Remember Medicare prescription drug reform, the White House’s last attempt to curry favor with an important voting bloc? Here is how it’s not winning them votes:

See the pattern? The more time voters had to read the fine print on the scheme, the less they liked it; the ones who were purported to benefit the most liked it the least; the most common reasons for not liking it are reasons to vote Democratic in the next election.

And with the immigration proposal, there’s already plenty of fine print to not like. The amnesty (in all but name) offered to undocumented workers is a crock, because it requires their employers’ cooperation. Right now, the occasional INS raid is just a cost of doing business for companies that hire illegal aliens, and as this American Prospect article illustrates, it’s not much of a cost. So why should the employers give their workers the right to complain about their boss and not get deported?

(Yes, the senior Administration officials made some noise about improving their enforcement efforts against illicit employers. I’m sure Dubya will offer Congress an INS budget with enough “internal enforcement” to make a difference, right after No Child Left Behind is fully funded and Air Force One is escorted by flying pigs.)

Bush’s proposal also includes a new visa category, allowing employers in any industry to bring in temp workers from abroad, after the usual certification that no American resident can be found to do such-and-such a grueling job for the miserably low pay being offered. Who has been lobbying for such a plan? Not the Hispanic voters. As the Prospect reported back in July:

The Essential Worker Immigration Coalition (EWIC) includes 34 employer associations from industries including hotels, health care, construction, janitorial services, meatpacking, amusement parks, retail stores and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Its agenda has some elements that immigrant-rights advocates and unions also support, such as a legalization program for undocumented workers and repeal of employer sanctions, which make it illegal for an undocumented worker to hold a job.

But the heart of its agenda are the following two points: “short-term: an effective h-2b-like program,” and “long-term: an employment-based visa that could be converted to permanent residence.” EWIC co-Chairman John Gay says most industry groups would prefer the second alternative — creating a whole new visa category for permanent contract workers because the H2-B program is set up for temporary, seasonal employment. “But it’s possible that this aspect could be changed,” he speculates.

The coalition combines both legalization and guest-worker proposals because it believes that guest-worker expansion alone would never get the needed 60 votes to defeat a filibuster in the U.S. Senate. “Organized labor would go ballistic,” Gay says. “That’s why we’re for the whole enchilada.” Before September 11, such a compromise was being discussed in the back rooms of Congress.

(Read the rest to find out how aggressively our government is not protecting the foreign temp workers we already have.)

So a President who muffed his attempts to pander to seniors and to steelworkers is now trying to sell an “immigration reform” plan that Hispanic voters are unlikely to buy, that will piss off his conservative base because of the amnesty provision, and that will give disgruntled high-tech workers further motivation to work for his defeat. How much more unelectable can—

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