Pretend Primary: Illegal Immigration
As the countdown continues to our Dec. 13 Pretend Primary, let's take a look at an issue that is among the big talkers in the Washington area, but gets very little attention from some presidential candidates: illegal immigration.
If the presidential sweepstakes were ever to reach this part of the country, there's no question that the candidates would have to address the subject, opine on local efforts to crack down on illegal immigrants in places such as Prince William County, and even issue some concrete proposals on what the federal government ought to do about border security, enforcement of immigration laws, and the status and education of children of illegal immigrants. Illegal immigration is not at the very top of voters' concerns in either Maryland or Virginia, but Washington Post Polls in the last couple of weeks show that the issue ranks fifth in Virginia (seven percent of those polled put the issue in the #1 slot) and eighth in Maryland (three percent say it's their top issue.)
But scouting around for such details makes it clear that while some Republican candidates are taking on the issue and even embracing it as a vote-getter in places such as Iowa and California, most of the Democrats would rather stick to other issues.
Here's a quick look at how some of the most popular candidates are handling the issue on their web sites:
Rudy Giuliani mentions immigration on the front page of his site but doesn't include the issue among the ten top subjects on which he spells out his views. The only remotely detailed talk about the topic on his site is a video in which radio talk show host Mike Gallagher opines on Fox News Channel that Giuliani "hits it out of the park on illegal immigration." Gallagher praises the ex-mayor's talk about creating Borderstat, a computerized enforcement project that would go after border security the way his Crimestat cracked down on criminals in New York City.
Fred Thompson makes immigration one of his top issues on his site, with numerous references to the issue and a detailed plan that rejects amnesty for illegal immigrants, embraces tighter enforcement of existing laws, and encourages greater federal cooperation with local law enforcement. His appears to be the toughest approach of any of these candidates.
Mitt Romney makes immigration one of twelve main issues on his site and offers up video of his take on the issue; he wants to put in force a mandatory, "biometrically enabled" verification system covering employers and employees, while tightening borders and easing restrictions on legal immigration.
John McCain, who lists immigration as one of his top ten issues, leaves aside any talk of a crackdown, concentrating instead on border security and on a more sweeping plan to make it less attractive for foreigners to want to come here illegally, focusing on building democracy in Latin America, training U.S. workers, and focusing on helping immigrants who are here to assimilate into American society.
Among the Democrats, immigration seems a far less burning concern:
You'll search in vain for immigration among the ten issues Hillary Clinton highlights on her site. Only in some comments she made about the DREAM Act, a bill assuring access to higher education for immigrant children that died in Congress last week, do you get a sense of Clinton's approach, which is to "expand opportunities for immigrant children."
On his site, John Edwards has perhaps the most extensive menu of issues discussions of any candidate, but nowhere in the 32 separate categories of issues is there any mention of illegal immigration.
Barack Obama is the only leading Democratic candidate to spell out a policy agenda on immigration and the border on his site. Obama argues that politicians have exploited the immigration issue while failing to address the genuine issue of an insufficiently regulated border. He proposes to tighten border controls, crack down on employers who hire illegal workers, make it easier for immigrants to come here legally, and create a path toward citizenship for those who are here illegally and otherwise play by the rules.
Would any of these messages change if the candidates had to make an appearance in, say, Manassas or, conversely, Takoma Park or Alexandria? How would Thompson finesse it if he were campaigning with, for example, a moderate Republican state legislator such as Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, who considers much of the illegal immigration rhetoric we've heard in recent months to be demagoguery?
What do you make of the candidates' approaches to illegal immigration and would you expect any of them to make the issue a priority if they were elected? Would you expect any of them to break the gridlock at the federal level on this issue?
(And please come ahead with other issues you'd like to see taken up here in coming weeks as we move toward our Pretend Primary on Dec. 13.)
(Appearance Update: Sen. Barack Obama actually set foot in Virginia this week, holding a fundraiser/rally in Charlottesville, where he drew a crowd of about 4,000--his largest audience yet, according to his campaign. Students paid $15 and others donated at levels from $29 to $100 to hear Obama talk about the war, the deterioration of constitutional protections under the Bush government, and income inequality. If you hear of any other candidates appearing in Virginia or Maryland, please let us know.)
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