Jewish World Review July 18, 2001/ 27 Tamuz 5761

Wesley Pruden

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Dooming newcomers to the isolated life -- IT'S probably futile to blame politicians for pandering. That's what pols are born and bred to do.

George W. and Dick Gephardt, for example, look at the growing numbers of Hispanic voters in the United States and understand how an old yellow hound feels when he sees a plate of scrapple cooling on the kitchen table.

The president, who never misses an opportunity to demonstrate that his Spanish is better than his English and who only last month ordered the Navy and Marines off their bombing range in Puerto Rico, is trying now to figure out a way to grant legal status to millions of illegal Mexicans without countenancing contempt for the law.

The White House tried a little soft-shoe shuffle yesterday after the disclosures in the New York Times over the weekend, trying to back down without appearing to tuck tail in the face of the reminders that George W. campaigned not so long ago against amnesty for immigration lawbreakers. Mr. Gephardt, always on the scout for a little sausage himself, leaped to praise the president for doing something he no doubt hopes the president will not be able to do.

"I commend the Bush administration for its reported review of the important issue of the immigration status of millions of Mexican immigrants living and working in the United States," Mr. Gephardt said, as if he really meant it as commendation. Then the knuckleball: "I hope and expect the Bush administration will seize this opportunity and not give in to the anti-immigrant forces in the Republican Party."

Actually, he hopes and expects no such thing, since getting an issue made for demagoguery is much more profitable. He and his Democratic colleagues are rooting for the "anti-immigrant forces in the Republican Party" to tell the president to hold his horses.

George W. is enamored of the Hispanic vote because his handlers think it may be bigger than first thought and he'll need everything he can scrape together in '04. The estimate of 3 million Mexicans living illegally in the United States is the estimate of the Mexican government, but it might, in fact, be much larger. Mexico cannot count its own population, so any estimate of the population elsewhere is suspect. Some U.S. immigration groups say the total is closer to 9 million Mexicans, who have a lot of family, friends and fellow ethnics already eager to vote.

Ari Fleischer, the president's press agent, insisted yesterday that all his boss has in mind is sending "a welcoming signal," something like a plate of beans and rice you might take to the new neighbors moving in across the street, so that "people from Mexico and other nations should feel welcome in the United States. It's part of creating an orderly process to what has been a very disorderly process along the border."

It's certainly true that the process along the border is disorderly, and new immigrants should always be made to feel welcome since, as we can expect to hear often as this debate quickens, we are all immigrants. Even the Indians. Nevertheless, many Americans, including a lot of Republicans in Congress, will resist the notion that endless final amnesties ("this is absolutely, positively, unconditionally and unequivocally the last one") are fair to the immigrants who came here the lawful way. Is that the way to encourage the kind of immigration the nation should always seek?

Some Democrats in Congress, under pressure from the unions, are suspicious that another amnesty will encourage a new wave of illegal immigration, driving down wages while waiting for the next amnesty. President Vicente Fox of Mexico also wants an open border, with Americans and Mexicans moving from country to country with neither passport nor visa.

The administration's fall-back position, if resistance grows in Congress, is a new temporary-worker program. Planters and growers in the Southwest are eager for such a program. So, too, are homeowners in Southern California, who are terrified they might have to take care of lawns and swimming pools themselves. Restaurateurs are eager for an unlimited supply of poorly paid busboys whose lack of passable English makes them all but unemployable elsewhere.

George W., perhaps with an excess of conservative compassion, is unwilling to risk inviting new immigrants here on terms that would be fair to everyone, new immigrants most of all.

He could begin by insisting that illegal Mexicans obey the law and learn the language as a condition of staying. By encouraging them to adhere to old-country customs and language, however much fun it may be to show off border-bordello linguistic skills, he dooms them to lonely isolation with scant hope of climbing out of a miserable ghetto of penury and cultural poverty. Such is the price of the pander.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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