Immigration could be the hot election issue in 2008

By Eunice Moscoso, Cox News Service, June 2, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Immigration will be a driving social issue in the next presidential election, much like gay marriage and abortion were in the 2004 race, some experts predict.

Groups in California and Colorado have started campaigns for referendums to crack down on illegal immigrants, and groups in other states are considering similar efforts. Some are buoyed by a successful state referendum in Arizona last year requiring immigrants to show proof of legal residence before voting or receiving state welfare services.

Immigration also is becoming an increasingly hot topic on radio and television talk shows as Congress considers various proposals, including one introduced last month by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., which would allow illegal immigrants to apply for temporary work visas.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, which advocates tighter controls on immigration, predicted it will be a major issue in 2008 because of the sheer numbers of illegal immigrants.

"Once you get to 10, 11, 12 million illegal aliens, it's sort of hard not to talk about and hard not to deal with," he said. Estimates of illegal immigrants in the United States vary widely, with most ranging between 8 million and 12 million....

Cecilia Munoz, vice president for policy at the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights group, said McCain's leadership in trying to resolve the nation's broken immigration system could be a major boost if he decides to run for president.

"There is a real opportunity now to have policies that really fix the system ... so that we end up with a more controlled, more rational immigration policy," she said. "Senator McCain has invested a lot of political capital in getting to that place."

The immigration issue has already split the Republican Party in Congress, with some pro-business lawmakers backing President Bush's proposal for a temporary worker program for immigrants and others adamantly opposing it.

Bush's plan would be the most dramatic change in immigration policy since 1986. It would give illegal immigrants already in the United States one chance to register for legal permission to work for up to six years, after which they would have to return to their home countries. Companies would have to prove that the jobs offered to the foreign workers could not be filled by Americans.

Bush has been attacked by conservatives for his plan. Those in favor of tighter immigration controls were particularly upset when Bush suggested that the group of citizens known as the "Minutemen," who watched over part of the Arizona-Mexico border in April to protest illegal immigration, were "vigilantes."

Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., one of the most outspoken lawmakers against the president's immigration plan, is planning trips to the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire to highlight the issue.

The California immigration initiative would create a new division of law enforcement -- the California Border Police -- to secure the state's border with Mexico. Supporters are hoping for a statewide referendum in 2006. In Colorado, a group called Defend Colorado Now is pushing an amendment that would require proof of legal residence for non-emergency services. The amendment would also allow Colorado residents to sue the state or local governments to enforce the requirement.

Rick Oltman, western field director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a national group that helped pass the Arizona initiative and works to reduce immigration levels, said the Internet and the plethora of conservative talk radio shows make it easier to organize such referendums....

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