The Immigration Time-Bomb
The immigration issue is the political equivalent of a time-bomb in American politics. Depending of whether it is defused or explodes, it will either strengthen or blow apart existing American electoral coalitions.
The issue is dangerous to the current political alignment because opinions cut across existing fault lines, whether ideological, racial or economic. Where things would ultimately shake out if or when the explosion happens depends largely on the responses of the political parties.
In Republican terms, it is the one issue that could endanger the long-term stability of the present coalition of economic, social and cultural/religious conservatives. It is the emergence of this coalition that has led to the current electoral success of the Republican Party. In fact, it is still growing, as more and more cultural conservatives, (particularly in the South), continue to abandon the Democrats at all levels of governance.
For years neither party has made much in the way of serious effort on the issue, but it seems that finally some politicians are beginning to see its growing importance, or at least the political mileage that can be gained from it.
On the Democrat side, possible presidential contender Hillary Clinton has begun to reposition herself on the issue, commenting on the need for better border enforcement. Within the past two weeks, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano have both declared "states of emergency" in their respective states, (or portions of them), with regard to illegal immigration. From a bureaucratic perspective, these declarations free up more government funds that can pay for law enforcement overtime, equipment and other supplies that can be directed against illegal immigration.
On the Republican side, President Bush has been advocating a new "temporary guest worker" program that would allow foreign nationals to enter the country and work for a limited period of time. The plan has yet to gain much traction in Congress however, as many perceive some of its details as being tantamount to an amnesty program for illegal aliens already in the country.
North Carolina GOP Rep. Sue Myrick recently introduced legislation that would raise the penalties on businesses that hire illegals from the current $250 to $10,000 each and give local law enforcement a cut of the fines to help secure their assistance with enforcement. The rationale behind this approach is that of attacking the "demand" side of the problem, as opposed to just the "supply" side which, given the expanse of our borders is difficult to say the least.
Still others advocate more simple and tangible solutions, such as following the Israeli example and constructing a wall (or fence) along the border.
Earlier this year, a group calling itself the Minutemen raised the visibility of the issue on the national stage (as well as the federal government's lack of attention to it) by conducting a month long citizen border enforcement campaign along a border crossing hot-spot in Arizona. The effort met with some practical success (illegals started crossing over somewhere else) and tremendous PR success, so much so that one of its own is now running for Congress in California.
Add to this the fact that last week Texas officially became a "majority-minority" state in demographic terms again raising the issue as most of the minority population growth has been the result of years of illegal immigration.
From an electoral standpoint, the GOP's problem is that of division between social and cultural conservatives vs. economic conservatives particularly the business community. Big business likes the status quo as it amounts to government subsidized labor. Social and cultural conservatives oppose it for a variety of reasons. Among them, that the immigration rates have far outpaced the country's ability to assimilate them into its culture, it artificially depresses wages and adds to the cost of local government in terms of schools, social service programs, health care and law enforcement all of which impact the overall tax burden, (read "property taxes").
The issue impacts the GOP's credibility as the "law and order" party, insofar as the party doesn't push for initiatives to strictly enforce the immigration laws already on the books, not to mention push for increased immigration control measures.
What we need is a comprehensive approach that can take advantage of the momentum of public opinion surrounding the issue that would attack both the supply and demand side. This would mean better border security (which coincidentally also impacts national security, another GOP issue), stricter penalties for hiring illegals, quicker deportations and better overall enforcement of immigration laws.
Without such a comprehensive approach, it is doubtful much will change for the better. The key to such an approach (from a Republican standpoint) is the business community. No doubt big business would initially pooh-pooh such an approach, but they must be made to understand that if they don't work with the other elements of the party toward a constructive solution, then the party runs a serious risk of stunting its future growth at a minimum and quite possibly losing serious support amongst grassroots conservatives in the future. That means losing elections, and where would that leave them or any conservatives for that matter?
The bomb is ticking.