Illegal Immigration Fears Have Spread. Populist calls for tougher enforcement are being heard beyond the border states.
In Washington, Colorado, Virginia and elsewhere, grass-roots organizations are forming to pass initiatives and pressure politicians into enacting laws denying benefits to illegal immigrants. There are already groups in seven states and more are expected by the end of summer. One congressman may even run for president on a platform of securing the border.
The issue, experts say, is affecting more people than ever before and the gap between the public and policymakers is widening.
"Immigration is now a national phenomenon in a way that was less true a decade ago," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Immigration Studies in Washington. "In places like Georgia and Alabama, which had little experience with immigration before, people are experiencing it firsthand. Immigrants are working in chicken plants, carpet mills and construction. It's right in front of people's faces now, which is why it's become a political issue where it wasn't relevant before."
Supporters of tougher enforcement say the rise of citizen groups is a natural response to the federal government's reluctance to repair a situation nearly everyone admits is broken.
"The issue is about elites, major financial interests and global economic forces arrayed against the average American voter," said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors strict immigration policies. "The depth of anger should not be underestimated."
Georgia's migrant population has mushroomed, growing from between 25,000 and 35,000 in 1990 to 228,000 by 2000, according to government statistics.
Though these statistics motivate many grass-roots operations, their real inspiration has come from Kathy McKee. She launched Proposition 200, which passed overwhelmingly last year in Arizona. The measure requires evidence of legal residence before people can vote or get state welfare services.
"The reason for this movement is that people have lost hope that the government is going to do its job," she said. "The people in Washington are listening to their contributors who are businesses, and businesses, almost without fail, want illegal immigration."
This groundswell of citizen activism worries proponents of more open immigration laws. The Catholic Church will begin a public relations counteroffensive next month against those calling for tighter border controls.
Though Democrats have traditionally held more liberal views on immigration, the issue is splitting the Republican Party.
"You have the cultural conservatives versus the libertarian, pro-business wing of the party," said Wayne Cornelius, director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UC San Diego. "The cultural conservatives will not let this issue go away. They will keep holding the president's feet to the fire."
[W]hile Bush and the Senate try to balance the needs of immigrants and business with better border security, others want tougher action.
In the House of Representatives, there are efforts to keep illegal immigrants from getting driver's licenses. Some activists are calling for the National Guard to patrol the border. Meanwhile, talk radio and cable news programs fan the passions of those who feel the country is losing its sovereignty.
(4-25-05, The Los Angeles Times.)