Jewish World Review Sept. 1, 2004 / 15 Elul, 5764

Froma Harrop

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Consumer Reports

Is president's position on immigration hurting him? | NEW YORK — All is not sunshine at the Republican National Convention. Tom Tancredo isn't smiling much. Tancredo is a conservative congressman from the Denver suburbs who has made immigration his signature issue. President Bush's open-borders policy drives him crazy.

Tancredo held a press conference here to express his displeasure. Note that the event took place in a kosher restaurant staffed by foreign accents from around the globe. Outside on Broadway, the international hordes went about their business.

Also note that Tancredo's fellow panelists were New Yorkers who swim easily in the sea of diversity. Their views did not reflect any white-bread fears of brown-skinned masses taking over. Some panelists told reporters that they disagreed with the fiery congressman on many issues. But they clearly shared his concern that illegal immigration threatened both Americans' livelihoods and their lives.

This broad-based agreement makes Tancredo and like-minded conservatives boil. Illegal immigration aggravates Americans across the political spectrum, yet Republicans can't get an honest discussion going on an issue that should belong to them. Democrats wink at illegal immigration because it brings new voters into their ranks. But Bush and other Republicans are now accepting it as a source of cheap labor.

Many in the so-called liberal media no longer bother to even distinguish between legal and illegal in their coverage of immigration. And President Bush seems to have joined them.

Tancredo bitterly recalls Bush's speech backing a program to grant guest-worker status to illegal immigrants already working in the United States. "I want to match every willing worker with every willing employer," the president famously said.

"There are a billion willing workers," Tancredo told the press conference, "all of them willing to work for less than someone (an American) already employed."

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Sharing the podium was Matthew Reindl, whose family owns a carpentry shop on Long Island. He said most of his employees are legal immigrants "from almost every nationality you can think of." But when it comes to pricing jobs, his legal immigrants can't compete with his rivals' illegal immigrants.

Reindl noted that he provides his workers with good wages, health insurance and workers' comp coverage. His lawbreaking competitors do none of these things. As a result, his labor costs are at least 60 percent higher than theirs.

Michael Cutler was a senior special agent for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (since folded into the Department of Homeland Security). "I don't oppose diversity," said Cutler, who added he is the son of Jewish immigrants.

But he contends that the blatant flouting of the nation's immigration laws greases the skids for terrorists. For one thing, the presence of so many illegal aliens has created a brisk business for mail drops, fake documents and other tools designed to fool law enforcement. Terrorists also use these services to cover their tracks.

Cutler sees local governments and employers complicit in the game of fudging identities. Most scandalous is their growing acceptance of identification cards issued by foreign authorities. He noted that a group of illegal immigrants had successfully used such documents to board a flight from California to New York.

"People were let on planes on the strength of Mexican voter registration cards," he said with an air of wonderment.

Like the other panelists, Tancredo regards Bush's guest-worker proposal as a reward for lawbreaking. And he thinks it will only encourage more people to come here illegally.

"The president went on in the speech to say he opposed amnesty," Tancredo complained. "That is amnesty in the language I speak." He characterized Bush's line as "Clintonesque," hardly a tribute in his circles.

Tancredo has reportedly received some stern phone calls from Karl Rove, the president's adviser. Bush and Rove believe that an open-border policy will attract Latino voters to the Republican column. That is debatable. After all, studies show illegal competition has helped paralyze economic progress for low-skilled Hispanics, including those born in the United States.

Tancredo denies that his criticisms are hurting the president. "I think the president's position on immigration is hurting the president."

After the press conference, the attendees melted into the multicultural bazaar of Broadway — along with a stereotype: One does not have to be a right-wing ideologue to agree that illegal immigration is a real problem.

Froma Harrop is a columnist for The Providence Journal. Comment by clicking here.