Immigration may be hot issue in '08.
In California and Colorado, they have started campaigns for referendums to crack down on illegal immigrants, and groups in other states are considering similar efforts. Some are buoyed by a successful state referendum in Arizona last year requiring immigrants to show proof of legal residence before voting or receiving state welfare services.
Immigration is also becoming an increasingly hot topic on radio and television talk shows as Congress considers various proposals, including one introduced last month by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) that would allow illegal immigrants to apply for temporary work visas.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, which advocates tighter controls on immigration, predicted the issue will play a major role in the 2008 campaign because of the sheer numbers of illegal immigrants.
"Once you get to 10, 11, 12 million illegal aliens, it's sort of hard not to talk about and hard not to deal with," he said.
Immigrant advocates agree that the issue could prove significant in 2008, but for different reasons.
McCain gets praise
Cecilia Munoz, vice president for policy at the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic rights group, said McCain's leadership in trying to resolve the nation's broken immigration system could be a major boost if he runs for president.
"There is a real opportunity now to have policies that really fix the system ? so that we end up with a more controlled, more rational immigration policy," she said. "Senator McCain has invested a lot of political capital in getting to that place."
The issue has already split the Republican Party in Congress, with some pro-business lawmakers backing President Bush's proposal for a temporary worker program for immigrants and others opposing it.
Bush's plan would be the most dramatic change in immigration policy since 1986. It would give illegal immigrants already in the United States a chance to register for legal permission to work for up to six years, after which they would have to return to their home countries. Companies would have to prove that Americans were not available to fill jobs offered to the foreign workers.
Conservatives have attacked Bush for his plan. Those in favor of tighter immigration controls were particularly upset when he suggested that the group of citizens known as the "Minutemen," who watched over part of the Arizona-Mexico border in April to protest illegal immigration, were "vigilantes."
Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) is among the most outspoken of lawmakers opposing the president's immigration plan. He is planning trips to Iowa, where caucuses will begin the 2008 pesidential contest, and New Hampshire, which hold the first primary.
The California immigration initiative would create a new division of law enforcement — the California Border Police — to secure the state's border with Mexico. Supporters are hoping for a statewide referendum in 2006. In Colorado, a group called Defend Colorado Now is pushing an amendment that would require proof of legal residence for non-emergency services. The amendment also would allow Colorado residents to sue the state or local governments to enforce the requirement.
Clinton tilts tough
Rick Oltman, western field director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a national group that helped pass the Arizona initiative and works to reduce immigration levels, said the Internet and the plethora of conservative talk shows make it easier to organize such referendums.
State referendums against gay marriage in 2004 helped propel the issue nationally and increased voter turnout for President Bush in some states.
But Thomas Mann, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said that while immigration could be an important issue in 2008, it is a complicated one because both parties are divided on it. Mann said that neither Bush's temporary worker plan nor the McCain-Kennedy alternative is likely to clear Congress before the 2006 election. Krikorian said 2008 presidential candidates from either party have a big opportunity on the immigration issue, but so far, only Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is trying to position herself as tough on immigration enforcement. In a much-quoted radio interview earlier this year, Clinton said she was "adamantly against illegal immigration."
(6-5-05, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.)