An anti-immigrant tempest is sweeping America, and the winds of discontent are whipping up concerns about jobs and rising crime. Mindful of the approaching 1996 elections, the GOP is struggling to shape legislation that will curb the current, historic highs in both legal and illegal immigration. But the party is bitterly divided on solutions and locked in a fight over compromise.
The GOP is on the brink of being embroiled in a bitter and untidy debate about immigration \reform. Republican lawmakers who want to see a virtual halt to immigration are planning to defy the House leadership and press their own legislative proposals rather than back a more modest restrictionist reform bill that has the support of House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Immigration hard-liners led by Rep. Bob Stump, an Arizona Republican, vow they will not back down on their commitment to reduce dramatically both legal and illegal immigration. They plan to oppose a reform bill introduced by Texas Republican Lamar Smith that would cut annual immigrant numbers by about a third, claiming that it fails to go far enough in responding to widespread public anxiety about the explosive growth of immigration since the early 1980s.
Opinion polls consistently show that a majority of Americans oppose large-scale legal immigration and that even more are upset about the illegals. Public outrage in California led to the passage last year of Proposition 187, a state ballot initiative that denies undocumented aliens access to most public services. A handful of other states, including Florida, are considering similar legislation.
"Smith has some good provisions against illegal immigration but he does nothing about the problem we have to address: legal immigration"' Stump tells Insight. The Smith bill, in the process of being marked up in the House Judiciary Committee, also has drawn fire from the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform, a well-funded, 70,000-strong group that has been a leader in the fight against additional immigration.
Dan Stein, the group's executive director, argues that Republicans only will encourage the development of a populist third party if they duck widespread public demands for a halt to the "immigration invasion.... The people want this, and if there isn't leadership from the two main parties, it will be addressed by a third party."
More than 50 Republican lawmakers have cosponsored an alternative to Smith's measure that has been drafted by Stump. That bill, which is similar to one being pushed in the Senate by Alabama Republican Richard Shelby, would reduce the current annual number of legal immigrants from around 800,000 to 325,000 and shift criteria for admission toward skills and away from family unification, which has been mainly responsible for the recent, historic highs in immigration. The Stump and Shelby bills are, for all practical purposes, recommending a zero-sum moratorium, since between 200,000 and 300,000 Americans and legal residents move out of the United States every year.
Stump accuses the Republican leadership in the House of trying to fashion the Smith proposal, which sets the annual legal immigration rate at about 500,000, into a "compromise vehicle" as part of a bid to gain majority Republican backing and substantial Democratic support. Smith denies this; while acknowledging that he would like to forge a bipartisan approach on immigration reform, he says his 300-page Immigration in the National Interest Act was not designed as a compromise measure.
"We reached the numbers we did not because of any arbitrary reasons and not because of the lobbying of any special interests, but out of a judgment of what is good for America," says Smith. "We had five goals: to make America more competitive, to secure our borders, to protect American lives, to unite nuclear families and to make immigrants more self-sufficient. I have not found anyone who disagrees with those five goals. …