Open Borders, Closed Wallets

A Republican fundraiser learns firsthand that the GOP grassroots resent the president’s amnesty proposal.

The telephone rang and an old wealthy conservative friend answered. After the usual pleasantries, I told him I was a co-host for the upcoming Jan. 15 Bush-Cheney event at Atlanta’s World Congress Center and pitched him for $2,000 to attend and see the president on a rope-line. For $20,000, I explained, he could have a personal audience and photograph with the commander-in-chief. Before I could even finish my last sentence, though, I was cut off. “You should know I wouldn’t be writing a check after his crazy amnesty proposal.”

I was not surprised, replied that I was as disgusted as he was, and pressed on with my next call. Same response but angrier. “Why are you even helping Bush?” was the question from the third conservative donor on my list. The fourth rejection was emphatic “I’m not giving him a dime because of that immigration announcement.” The fifth person got right to the point: the president “is pandering to the open borders crowd.” No check. My sixth target, who said he was “maxed out” to the campaign, was the only one to “support” the president: “Bush has given up on immigration, but I’m not concerned. Let’s deal with the Democrats on other issues.”

There was more of the same on my second day dialing for dollars, so I gave up. Then I warned the Georgia Bush-Cheney chairman, Jamie Reynolds, that I was failing to receive checks because of the president’s stand on illegal immigration. His response was a polite admission that he had heard rumblings too but that we all should press on.

The problem, of course, was that earlier that week, on Jan. 6, 2004, President George W. Bush proposed that Congress “adjust the legal status” of the 10 to 12 million illegal immigrants in our country. He insisted his proposal was not amnesty. Yet it most certainly is. It is also a blatant undermining of the rule of law, a threat to homeland security, a death blow to Social Security, and a below-the-belt punch to American workers.

Goaded for months by adviser Karl Rove, Bush proposed that an illegal immigrant could apply for temporary worker status for up to six years, getting all the benefits of citizenship ranging from a driver’s license to Social Security checks. To facilitate this, the president asked Congress to raise the number of legal green cards to immigrants each year (currently 140,000) yet never specified how many millions would be needed. As one of the Georgia Bush-Cheney fundraisers whispered to me at the World Congress Center: “It’s all pretty dumb, isn’t it?”

Even more incredibly, Bush said these temporary workers could apply for citizenship “in the normal way.” Well, then, they wouldn’t be temporary, would they? Furthermore, Bush’s plan would allow these so-called temporary workers to bring their entire families with them for the duration of their work permits, no doubt producing American anchor babies in the process.

The fundraising reaction in my home state of Georgia was swift, as my usually reliable donors let me know. But more was to come.

On Jan. 31, at a packed Georgia Christian Coalition event in Atlanta’s Mount Vernon Baptist Church, all of the candidates vying for the state’s 6th Congressional district seat – perhaps the most Republican enclave in the country- blasted the amnesty plan. In addition, all of the GOP U.S. Senate primary candidates took the president to task for his remarks to loud applause. But the most sustained applause was reserved for Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), the head of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus who blistered Bush and urged attendees to put “country over party” when it came to fighting illegal immigration. Congressman Tancredo underscored that Bush placed no effective limit on “temporary workers” admitted at any time. The Bush proposal allows all businesses to post any job in the country on an Internet website (presumably at any wage and working condition), and if an American does not take the job in some vague short timespan, then the business can import a foreign worker. Employers will naturally be hiring more foreigners- and the Bush proposal makes no mention of what this will do to salaries. In fact, the Washington Times quotes a White House official as saying that the fact that a job is open will be assumed to mean that the marketplace has determined the need for immigration. So the impact of more Third World immigration on joblessness and wages will be tremendous – a fact that the 2004 Democrat presidential nominee, if he is smart, could underscore repeatedly.

On Feb. 5, my friend and fellow activist D.A. King organized a demonstration at the Georgia Capitol building steps to protest the Bush amnesty plan in particular and unchecked illegal immigration in general. In attendance, and supporting the cause, were the Republican leaders of the immigration caucuses in both legislative houses Rep. Chip Lake and Sen. Casey Cagle. (My favorite sign held by a demonstrator at the rally “attended mainly by dozens of conservatives and blue-collar workers” was “Deport Karl Rove.”)

Later that day, after a speech I gave to a 250-strong senior-citizens group in Roswell, Ga., the question period focused on how the Bush proposal stabbed at the very heart of the Social Security system. Under the Social Security Act, illegal aliens are eligible for benefits if the U.S. and the home country of the illegal have a “totalization” agreement. If Congress ever agrees with the president and grants it, one questioner asked me, “What’s the end result?” I responded by quoting journalist Joel Mowbray, who said in light of the number of Mexicans potentially eligible for benefits under the Bush agreement, the total expenditure for U.S. taxpayers would far surpass $1 billion annually. But whatever the estimate, if untold millions of illegal Mexicans, Middle Easterners, and others are allowed to collect full Social Security wages for themselves and their families -without having to work the required number of years that law-abiding citizens work to be eligible- the system could go belly-up fast.

I also attended many Georgia Republican Party county caucuses in February and March where members openly blasted the president on immigration. A typical resolution, passed unanimously by the Rockdale County GOP, read: “Be it further resolved the – party supports legislation and efforts to stem the negative tide of illegal immigration into the U.S. Illegal immigration challenges the very sovereignty and lifestyle of all Americans who are legal citizens.”  County chairman Kellie Pharr told me, “This is in direct response to our own president.”

The bottom line: the Bush amnesty and so-called “temporary worker” scheme will not pass Congress if a majority realizes that it is fiscally irresponsible, encourages massive illegal immigration, and would further balkanize society by fostering an underclass that does not want to learn English or participate in mainstream American culture. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, (R-Ga.), sensing that Bush made a strategic error with conservatives, is now quoted by the New York Times as saying that Congress would make headway this session “in other proposals” guiding the hiring of foreign workers. The senator tells me Bush needs “better advice” on this issue “the understatement of the year.”

Bush will carry Georgia in November, and probably the entire old Confederacy. But his main Southern conservative base, like a parent ticked off at a wayward son, is clearly not happy.

Phil Kent is an Atlanta media consultant, executive director of The American Immigration Control Foundation, and author of The Dark Side of Liberalism

April 12, 2004 issue
Copyright © 2004 The American Conservative