Republicans Driving Immigration Issue

The headline from the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram is a little more neutral, claiming that "some candidates" are making immigration an issue, with political guru Harvey Kronberg counseling candidates to consider it "the biggest issue" of the upcoming campaign season. So the drum beat continues.

Kronberg is predicting that Republicans will compete to be "most restrictive" on the issue. State politicians, says the article, are following the lead of the US House of Representatives in calling for more fences and criminal penalties.

One fascinating fact: 4,207 babies out of 5,775 born at one Fort Worth hospital were delivered of undocumented mothers. After citing this fact, the newpaper next quotes a Republican politician about "the crisis". But what constitutes these babies as a crisis? Does Texas have a zero-growth population policy?

More sobering is reference to a report by the Center for Immigration Study in which author Steven A. Camarota argues that the meager growth in job opportunities between 2000 and 2004 went largely to immigrants. Strangely enough, Camarota reports this was least true in Florida (where Camarota gives 15 percent of new jobs to immigrants) and California (where he gives 49 percent). In Texas, Camarota’s figures show that 86 percent of job increases went to immigrant workers.

At first glance, it is not clear why Camarota’s working totals are somewhat different from numbers reported at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For "number working in 2004" Camarota reports 19.7 million "immigrants" and 115.3 million "native born" whereas the BLS reports employment of 20.3 "foreign born" workers and 119 million "native born". At the BLS table, unemployment for both sets of workers is tied at 5.5 percent.

Also not mentioned in the newspaper article is a Bureau of Labor Statistics report that foreign-born workers earn 75 percent of what native born workers earn and their increase in earnings is lower than native workers.

If we compare BLS earnings to Camarota’s totals, we might think that job growth between 2000-2004 offered earnings at substantially lower rates than what native-born workers were used to, with diminishing promise of advancement. Indeed, this offers a likely reason why immigrants will move to the front of the line when it comes to Republican scapegoating strategies. As voters come to the polls with the feeling that things are not getting better in the employment sector, Republican candidates can blame the very people who hold the worst jobs. This strategy will attempt to keep everyone’s eyes off the deeper meanings of employment stagnation. Meanwhile, with the scapegoats in focus, Halliburton stands ready to build the "concentration camps".

More than half of the foreign born working-age population in the USA are non-Hispanic says the BLS. Of 31.3 million foreign born people over age 16 in the USA, 14.6 million are Hispanic.


We’ve clipped the full Star-Telegram article:

By JOHN KIRSCHSTAR-TELEGRAM STAFF WRITER

Illegal immigration is emerging as a growing issue in the 2006 state elections, with several polls indicating rising public concern.

With an estimated 9.7 million immigrants living in the country illegally, including 1.3 million in Texas, constituents worry about competition for jobs and the effect on social services, according to lawmakers and political analysts. And some candidates, most of them Republicans, aim to take advantage of voter discontent.

State Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, said a recent poll she conducted indicated that immigration was the No. 1 concern of residents in her district, which includes most of Northeast Tarrant County. State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, said immigration is also a top issue at town-hall meetings she holds in her district, which includes parts of Denton and Tarrant counties.

Across the region, far from Texas’ 1,200-mile border with Mexico, other candidates in the March 7 primaries say they see the same concern.

"It’s going to be the single biggest issue, along with property taxes, in state House and Senate races. And pretty much every candidate, both Democrats and Republicans, ignore it at their peril," said Harvey Kronberg, editor of an online political newsletter in Austin.

Border concerns

Kari Harris, a neighborhood watch leader in north Fort Worth, echoes the concerns felt by many Texans. She said she is concerned about jobs, and she worries that the state’s porous border with Mexico makes it easy for terrorists to enter the United States.

A recent Scripps Howard Texas Poll indicated that 79 percent of Texans believe the government is not doing enough to stop illegal immigration. Eighty-six percent also believe that U.S. businesses add to the problem by hiring illegal immigrants, the poll indicated.

That’s consistent with a national Rasmussen poll in November, in which 75 percent of respondents said they believe immigration will be somewhat or very important in influencing their vote on Election Day.

"I do think it should be a priority," Harris said. Truitt said state officials must demand more action by federal officials who oversee the U.S.-Mexican border. Federal officials should consider sanctions against Mexico if the tide of immigrants does not stop, she said.

The three candidates for the GOP nomination in Tarrant County’s state House District 99, incumbent Charlie Geren and challengers Chris Hatley and Colby Brown, said they applaud Republican Gov. Rick Perry’s recent decision to spend nearly $10 million to beef up border security. Perry, who is seeking re-election, said the money will pay for more border personnel, training and equipment.

But Geren said more needs to be done. He said he would like a state House committee to convene and hear testimony from border law enforcement officials about how the state could stop illegal immigration.

In Tarrant County’s House District 91, GOP primary candidate Kelly Hancock said the state should work with citizen volunteers to increase border patrols but was undecided whether the Minutemen group should serve as a model.

The state candidates are taking a page from their congressional counterparts who passed legislation in December calling for building more fences on the U.S.-Mexico border to keep out illegal immigrants.

U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Flower Mound, who supports the bill, described the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States as an "invasion" that is burdening social-services programs, including local hospitals.

Babies born to women living in the country illegally made up nearly three-fourths of the births at Fort Worth’s public John Peter Smith Hospital this year, the Star-Telegram reported. Of the 5,775 deliveries during fiscal year 2005, which ended in September, 4,207 were the children of women without immigration documents.

"The crisis is so severe that it’s imperative that we simply secure the border," Burgess said.

Illegal immigration has also fueled concern about jobs for native-born Americans. The Center for Immigration Studies reports that immigrants account for almost 44 percent of workers in farming, fishing and forestry and almost 26 percent of construction and extraction workers. The unemployment rate for native-born Americans in those industr

ies is 12.6 percent and 11.3 percent, respectively – about twice the national unemployment rate.

Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, said that not every job taken by an immigrant costs a native-born American a job.

"But it would also be a mistake to assume that dramatically increasing the number of workers in these occupations as a result of immigration policy has no impact on the employment prospects of natives," Camarota wrote in his December 2005 report.

However, Michele Waslin, director of immigration policy research for the National Council of La Raza, a Latino civil-rights advocacy group, said a "disconnect" exists between the nature of the U.S. work force and growing sectors of the economy. Workers are getting older and more educated, but most new jobs are in low-wage service industries that require little advanced education, she said. More immigrants will be needed to avoid labor shortages.

"You don’t see a lot of people raising their kids to be farm workers and work in meatpacking plants," Waslin said.

‘Immigrant bashing’

The Texas Democratic Party’s 2004 platform supports stronger border security. But it also opposes "immigrant bashing." Amber Moon, a spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party, said Republicans were exploiting immigration for political gain.

"Instead of proposing real solutions, it’s a race to the right, as they compete to see who can come up with the most inflammatory language," Moon said in a written statement. Truitt rejected that argument, saying she is responding to her constituents’ concerns.

The political risk among Hispanic-Americans may be minimal. They rank education, healthcare, the economy and jobs as bigger issues than immigration, according to a survey released in August 2005 by the Pew Hispanic Center. Although a majority of Hispanics surveyed nationally express positive attitudes toward immigrants, relatively few favor increasing the flow of legal immigration from Latin America.

"These findings clearly indicate that in a policy debate Latinos will not automatically or unanimously adopt what might be commonly perceived as the pro-immigrant position," the survey report states.

Locally, state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, whose district is more than 60 percent Hispanic, said his constituents rarely ask him about immigration issues. Burnam said Republicans could still suffer some backlash from Hispanic voters if they back punitive measures.

That happened in California after Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, backed Proposition 187. The measure, approved by California voters in 1994, would have barred illegal immigrants from attending public schools and receiving social services from the state. Court challenges have prevented the proposition from taking effect. But Hispanic support for Republican candidates fell, helping Democrats gain power in California. And some Texas Hispanics are paying attention to the rhetoric.

"If candidates talk about shipping everybody back to Mexico, we’re certainly going to be aware of that and make sure the community knows," said Alberto Govea of Fort Worth, a former district director for the League of United Latin American Citizens.

But for now, many candidates see little downside in backing get-tough policies as they seek ways to gain advantage over rivals, Kronberg said.

"There will be a race among Republicans to be the most restrictive on immigration," Kronberg said.

This report includes material from Star-Telegram archives.

John Kirsch, (817) 685-3805
jkirsch@star-telegram.com

"Posted on Feb. 21, 2006"

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