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Jewish World Review April 28, 2000 /23 Nissan, 5760

Joseph Perkins

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The people won't forget -- AL GORE never ceases to amaze.

The very last thing anyone would have expected of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is that he would remind the American people of his unlawful fund-raising activities during the 1996 presidential campaign -- such as his attendance of a fund-raiser at a suburban Los Angeles Buddhist temple and his more than 50 solicitations of campaign money on a White House telephone.

But there was Gore last month, at Marquette University, posing as a born-again campaign finance reformer, proposing putative reforms -- including public financing of congressional campaigns and free television time for federal candidates -- that have less than zero chance of being enacted.

Even if Gore is elected. Even if a Democratic Congress is elected along with him.

For if Gore and his fellow Democrats really and truly favored such campaign finance "reforms," they would have enacted them way back in 1992 when they controlled both the White House and Congress. But enough about campaign finance reform. For the vice president has moved on to another issue that brings back still more bad memories of the 1996 presidential election.

Indeed, the next-to-last thing anyone would have expected of candidate Gore is that he would remind the American people of how he tampered with the citizenship process four years ago in a bid to add hundreds of thousands of new voters to Democratic Party rolls just in time for the election.

But there was Gore, a few weeks ago, announcing that the administration proposes to offer legal residency to more than 500,000 undocumented immigrants (more than a third of whom reside in California) who failed to take advantage of the 1996 federal amnesty program for one reason or another.

The proposal is said to be an attempt by the administration to resolve class-action lawsuits on behalf of an estimated 350,000 undocumented immigrants who claim that they were discouraged from applying for the 1986 amnesty program because of short-term absences from the United States. (The suit would also apply to another 150,000 or so undocumented immigrants who are not plaintiffs in the suit.)

Under the 1986 law, amnesty seekers were required to prove continuous residency in the United States, however, brief trips outside the country would not necessarily affect eligibility.

The undocumented immigrants suing the government say they were misled by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and, as a result, missed the deadline to apply for amnesty. So now they are asking the federal courts to grant them legal residency.

The INS acknowledges that some undocumented immigrants indeed may have been discouraged from applying for amnesty. But nowhere near the 350,000 that are parties to the class-action suits. And it is for that reason that government lawyers have fought the suits for more than a decade.

Indeed, over the past seven years, the Clinton administration has repeatedly stated that the claims by the undocumented immigrants ought to be resolved by the courts.

That is, until Gore's announcement on March 30 that the administration wants to let bygones be bygones and grant a half-million undocumented immigrants permanent residency.

Gore explained that the administration's 180-degree shift in policy is meant to "provide humanitarian relief to many long-term immigrants" and to "reduce or eliminate the need to continue litigating some of the large class-actions still lingering from the 1986 legalization program."

But if that really and truly were the administration's aim, it needn't have waited until nine months before leaving office, six months before the next presidential election, to propose this change in immigration policy.

No, the real aim of this sop to undocumented immigrants is to keep Hispanic voters from defecting from Gore to his Republican opponent George W. Bush, who has demonstrated an ability in his home state of Texas to win Hispanic support.

Of course, the Gore staff denies any political motivation in proposing legal residency for 500,000 undocumented immigrants. But the denials ring as hollow as the Gore staff's insistence in 1996 that the only reason the vice president involved his office with the "Citizen USA" program was to reduce the backlog of applications from immigrants seeking naturalization.

The fact is, the Gore staff waged an intense campaign to pressure the Immigration and Naturalization Service to hurry up its program to naturalize 1 million immigrants, with the vice president's full knowledge and consent.

"Unless we blast INS headquarters from their grip on the front-line managers, we are going to have too many people still waiting for citizenship in November," said one incriminating e-mail to Gore from his aide Doug Farbrother.

"If nothing moves today, we are going to take some pretty drastic action," warned Gore aide Elaine Kamarck, in a threatening e-mail message to INS officials, demanding that they do whatever was necessary -- including eschewing criminal-background checks -- to increase the numbers of immigrants granted citizenship in time for the election.

That Gore has dared to raise both the campaign finance and immigration issues suggests that he believes that the American people are ready and willing to overlook his transgressions during the 1996 presidential campaign.

Well, the scandal-weary American people have put 1996 behind them for the most part and are ready to move on from the past seven years of White House scandals. Nevertheless, Gore is mistaken if he thinks that, come November, he will not be held accountable for his misdeeds in office.

JWR periodic contributor Joseph Perkins is San Diego Union-Tribune columnist and a television commentator. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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