Magazine article Insight on the News

Melting Pot at Its Boiling Point

Magazine article Insight on the News

Melting Pot at Its Boiling Point

Article excerpt

Byline: Jennifer G. Hickey, INSIGHT

It might be the case that America is indeed a melting pot, but George W. Bush discovered just how easy it is to set that pot boiling when he lit the fire under efforts to deal with illegal immigration. Even before the official announcement was made rumblings about what was in the plan - and whether it was or was not an amnesty - produced both conservative condemnation and liberal lambasting.

Supporters of immigration limits, such as Mark Kirkorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, took to the opinion pages to decry any proposal to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants, and to blast the Bush administration's insistence that the president had not offered an "amnesty" plan. Other conservatives viewed it as a betrayal of principles, declaring it a bad idea to reward law-breakers - a discomfort only heightened by Bush's recent departures from conservative principles on free trade, education, the Medicare bill and freewheeling federal spending.

The Jan. 7 declaration by Bush of a "temporary-worker program that will match willing foreign workers with willing American employers, when no Americans can be found to fill the job," did not cause all conservatives and libertarians to run screaming for the border. One need look no further than the National Review Online blog to see how vibrant the debate and how complicated the policy and the politics are. Nor were the opinions homogenous in Congress. Conservative GOP Reps. Gary Miller of California and Walter Jones of North Carolina voiced opposition to the framework plan, while fellow Republican Study Committee member Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona embraced it.

Democratic leaders and presidential candidates meanwhile deployed their tired argument that "Republicans don't care about Hispanics," while anti-internationalist segments of both parties

laid blame at the feet of trade agreements for job losses and low wages. Others recognized the failures of past policies and the need for new approaches. Tamar Jacoby of the Manhattan Institute argued that Bush "has taken a critical first step and he deserves credit - both for taking on the broken status quo and for articulating a conservative case for change," a view echoed on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal.

The increasing need for workers with technological skills, the globalization of businesses and of labor pools, as well as the rising productivity and falling size of the U.S. workforce may result in a complicated network of factors affecting the job market and migratory flows. Yet, there are simpler reasons behind American sentiment and touchiness about immigration.

As interesting and enlightening as statistical postulations are concerning whether there are 8 million or 10 million illegal immigrants in the country, public tolerance of illegal immigration appears driven by consumer confidence and demographics more than anything else. Gallup, which has tested support for immigration since 1965, found that in the early 1990s support for reducing immigration levels reached a high of 65 percent, then dropped almost in line with the rise in the economy.

In June 2001 the nation was divided almost evenly between support for reducing immigration levels (41 percent) and for maintaining the status quo (42 percent). However, a rising fear of terrorism and a decline in the economy resulted in an increase of Americans who favor more constraints on immigration. In September 2002, 54 percent favored greater limits. That number had declined slightly to 47 percent by June 2003.

The latest surveys do not bode well for the Bush plan, nor for proponents of boosting immigration levels. The Jan. 9-11 CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll found that two-thirds of respondents believe immigrants contribute to declining wages, a percentage similar to that found in 1993. Even when the Bush administration's own definition of its "not-an-amnesty" amnesty plan is used to describe options only 42 percent of Americans favor it, compared with 55 percent in opposition. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.