Forged in secrecy, the proposal now faces the
harsh realities of the public arena, its fate in the hands of
politicians averse to compromise or taking chances. In particular,
the 2008 presidential candidates seem determined to play politics
with immigration: They're changing their tone and positions or
hedging to meet election-year demands.
"In terms of all the senators running for their
parties' presidential nominations, this is sort of like receiving a
mysterious package in the mail and trying to figure out what's
inside. It could explode in their faces or be 10 pounds of fudge,"
said Ross K. Baker, political science professor at Rutgers
A cross-party coalition of lawmakers --from
liberal icon Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., to conservative Sen. Jon Kyle
Kyl, R-Ariz. -- signed off Thursday on a bill that would offer legal
status to most of the nation's 12 million illegal immigrants while
also toughening border security. The effort suggests that some
politicians are adequately motivated to address the immigration
crisis before the 2008 elections.
It may be President Bush's last chance to claim
a significant domestic policy victory before the end of a second
term hit by scandal, war and plummeting approval ratings. It's the
first major opportunity by the Democratic-led Congress to get
something done. And it's the best chance Washington will get anytime
soon to control the nation's porous borders and bring millions of
illegal immigrants out of the shadows of the law, confronting
economic and national security concerns.
Immigration control is no longer an issue just
along the nation's borders, but one that touches virtually every
state. It tends to divide people more along regional and economic
lines than by party -- a maker of strange bedfellows. Business
leaders and some Democrats are united to extend the flow of cheap
labor into the country. Conservatives and some populist Democrats
speak in unison about closing the nation's borders before doing
Compromise on such a complicated issue would be
tough at any time in U.S. history. These are unusually divisive times.
"The public's approval of Congress is very low,
as low as the president's, and we think one reason is all the
conflict there," said Carol Cassel, professor of political science
at the University of Alabama.
It is no accident that presidential candidates
reacted so cautiously -- and politically -- to news of the deal.
Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois said
he wouldn't prejudge the bill, but he worried that some provisions were
not "just and humane."
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Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said she'd
study the package to make sure it "does not lead to the creation of
a new underclass."
Former Sen. John Edwards, who is running on a
more liberal platform than he adopted in his failed 2004 race,
expressed concerns about a "poorly conceived guest worker program."
The leading Republican candidates seem even
Sen. John McCain of Arizona distanced himself
from negotiations he once championed, then suddenly re-emerged
Thursday to take part in the news conference.
Former Sen. Fred Thompson flatly rejected the
deal as a "bill of goods," while writing separately on a political
blog that Congress needs bipartisanship. "Too often, what we are
seeing isn't an effort to find solutions, but rather insults and
purely partisan politics."
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's campaign
issued a statement that placed his sole emphasis on border security.
That's a far less nuanced approach than he took as mayor, when
Giuliani billed himself as one of the most "pro-immigrant"
politicians in America and argued against a GOP bill restricting
What has changed? Giuliani is now seeking the
support of anti-immigration Republicans.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said
Thursday he strongly opposed the deal because of its efforts to give
illegal citizens a path to citizenship. A year ago, he left a
"With these 11 million people, let's have them
registered, know who they are," Romney told a New Hampshire
newspaper. "Those who've been arrested or convicted of crimes
shouldn't be here; those that are here paying taxes and not taking
government benefits should begin a process toward application for
citizenship, as they would from their home country."
Romney once stressed what needed to be done.
Now he stresses what he doesn't want done.
It's a shift in tone and emphasis tailored for
the presidential campaign trail, the last place you'd expect to find
a can-do spirit.
[Text copied from file received from
Digitall article by Ron Fournier, Associated Press writer]
Note: Ron Fournier has covered politics for The Associated Press for
nearly 20 years.
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