Monday, October 30, 2006

Fenced in: Bush demagogues immigration, just as "Sonny Did"

Posted By on Mon, Oct 30, 2006 at 1:54 PM

A new season of our least popular American sport officially began last

month when Gov. Sonny Perdue appeared at the Division of Motor Vehicles

office with an entourage of government agents. It was then, in that

low-flung building above I-85, that Perdue announced a statewide crackdown

on undocumented workers who he said are illegally attempting to obtain

Georgia driver's licenses.

It was a general-election equivalent to the opening tip, the kickoff, the

leadoff hitter taking his first cut at a fastball, the strong-man contestant

hurling the hammer of Thor.

"Until Congress steps up," the governor said, "it looks like we're going

to be left to fight this battle."

Perdue said illegals are using fraudulent IDs to obtain jobs and drive on

Georgia's roads. And if that weren't contemptuous enough, the illegals have

taken the galling next few steps... of annihilating America.

"It is simply unacceptable," said the governor, "for people to sneak into

the country on Saturday, obtain a driver's license on Sunday, head to the

welfare office on Monday, and vote on Tuesday."

He said he would be asking the Legislature to designate funds ($900,000

to $1 million) to place Department of Driver Services (DDS) investigators in

the 10 highest-need driver-services facilities in the state to issue

warrants and arrest criminals who are trying to commit fraud.

Already riding the passage of a law-enforcement act to combat illegal

immigrants, the governor was again inflating the immigration issue in an

election year. Georgia's the No. 1 undocumented-worker destination in

the country, just as coincidentally immigration is the No. 1 issue for

Georgia voters, according to almost all of the polls, or at least according

to those who tell us about the polls.

dAt the time, that press conference looked like it might be a big moment,

one that would help define Perdue's re-election effort.

Of course, there were those who knew better.

"I don't think immigration will be a seminal issue in the governor's

race," political analyst Matt Towery said in the immediate aftermath of the

event. "It fits the pattern of a mosaic that Sonny is trying to convey."

In the governor's race at least, Towery's proved right.

Immigration hasn't been a big issue, but neither has practically anything

else. With the exception of education and government corruption, there have

been no issues in the governor's race. "Mark Taylor (the Democratic Party's candidate

for governor) has no momentum," said political commentator Dick Williams of

the Georgia Gang.

Issues only count in a close contest. That's when a tough-guy stance on

illegal immigration can become an edge. Sixteen to 20 points up in most

polls, Sonny hasn't needn't that edge.

Which brings us to the person who desperately does need it: George W.

Bush.

On Thursday, in a ceremony brimming with pomp and gravity, the president

authorized the construction of a 700-mile long fence on the border of

Mexico. No matter that there's no money for the fence. No matter that

Congress passed the bill last month. The get-tough Texan's congressional

leadership wanted a signing close to election day. The supposedly strong

leader who doesn't look at the polls, who has said he favors granting

illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, crumbled in the pressure cooker of

a political year, and signed the crackdown measure.

For once, he tried to tone down the tough talk.

"There is a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to

citizenship for every illegal immigrant and a program of mass deportation," Bush said, "and I look forward to working with Congress to find that middle

ground."

It's always the mark of a true diplomat and confident leader when he

finds the middle ground by imposing the more stringent measures first,

before he begins to negotiate.

The Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) size up the

Republicans' actions on immigration -- both state and federal -- as

mean-spirited demagoguery. The group's spokesman, Jerry Gonzalez, said he

believes Georgia's immigration act over time will be challenged in court,

and many of the provisions overturned. The Georgia Security and Compliance

Act doesn't take effect until next year. Some provisions don't kick in until

the year after. In part, the act mandates that police check the legal status

of people they arrest and report violations to the feds. "That law,"

Gonzalez said this week, "opens the state up to charges of discrimination on

all levels. It's clear that the state is ill-equipped to handle these kinds

of provisions. They will have to be scaled back dramatically."

Perdue and Gonzalez agree on one thing. "The leadership in Congress has

failed to implement something comprehensive to address the immigration

crisis," Gonzalez says. "That's where the solution lies, at the federal

level." Of course, where the governor and Gonzalez most dramatically part

company is on the role the state should play.

"States are over-reacting because Congress is failing to produce a

solution," Gonzalez says.

In order to develop an effective policy to eliminate illegal immigration,

"We must look at immigration reform through the lens of homeland security,"

he explains. "Who's coming in and why? The fence is more a matter of big

government contracts than a piece of comprehensive reform. Second, we need

to look at economic development. If Senate Bill 529 (the Georgia Security

and Compliance Act) were actually administered properly, 50 percent of the

work force in Dalton, for example, would disappear. Twenty-five percent of the work

force in Gainesville would disappear. Politicians are out of touch with the

business interests of the state and the country. As a nation we depend on

immigrant labor. And third, we have to make sure immigration reform reflects

who we are as Americans."

That will only happen when Elmer Gantry and his cronies are further

fenced in by their minority status after Nov. 8. On Friday, Democrats such as

Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, were pumped up on their door-to-door get-out-the-vote campaign.

"If we can change course, we can move away from polarizing issues like

immigration," says the veteran civil rights activist. "You can stop

demagoguing immigration for one. We are a nation of immigrants. Even though

we have a process, we should be patient and tolerant. People are coming here

because they want to work. They're getting money to send back to their

families. We have always worked with those who come to this country and find

themselves in the same predicament that we are in. As (the Rev. Joe) Lowery

pointed out two weeks ago, ÔWe are all God's children.' The Senate Bill,

which included a path for citizenship for undocumented workers, was a much

better proposal than what Bush signed yesterday. Maybe it will be revived

next year when the Democrats take over."

Which means a betting man can probably count on Perdue versus Pelosi.

-- Max Pizarro

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