Immigration issue hardly mentioned at GOP convention
During the Republican convention, immigration was no longer the hot issue that it was during GOP primaries.
By Lesley Clark
The Miami Herald (FL), September 5, 2008
The issue that helped cement John McCain's vaunted status as a Republican maverick was all but ignored at the GOP convention: immigration.
Even as Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, showcased as one of the GOP's American Dream success stories, took the stage Thursday night, immigration rated a peep.
''We believe everyone has something to contribute and deserves the opportunity to reach their God-given potential from the boy whose descendants arrived on the Mayflower to the Latina daughter of migrant workers,'' McCain said in his acceptance speech. “We're all God's children and we're all Americans.''
There was a brief mention Tuesday night when Sen. Joe Lieberman, a lapsed Democrat, took the stage to sell McCain to swing voters.
''If John McCain was just another go-along partisan politician, he never would have led the fight to fix our broken immigration system . . .'' Lieberman said.
Advocates for a sweeping immigration reform package say the low profile was expected: McCain did lead the effort to revamp immigration laws, they say, but shifted to a border-security-first stance after his support for the legislation threatened to derail his candidacy during the GOP primaries.
''If he voiced support at the convention, I suspect he would be booed,'' said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, an advocacy group that supports a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Sharry said the Republican platform appears to have been authored by party hard-liners who opposed the legislation and nearly sank McCain's chances at securing the nomination.
''It's enforcement, enforcement and more enforcement,'' Sharry said.
Republicans maintain that immigration has been eclipsed by concerns over gas prices and the economy.
''It was very pressing last year. Right now that's not one of the issues that's driving the American electorate,'' former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said Thursday.
No to 'Amnesty'
During the primaries, he and other McCain rivals all but sought to top each other in decrying legal status for undocumented workers as ''amnesty.'' But McCain, who has aggressively courted Hispanic voters, has appeared before several leading Hispanic organizations since he clinched the primary, vowing to pursue immigration reform.
''It's as if he gets to say what he wants on the campaign trail. The grass-roots got the language in the platform, and they've agreed it won't come up on the floor,'' Sharry said.
Recent polls suggest Democrat Barack Obama has opened a wide lead over McCain among Hispanics, who backed President Bush in 2004 with record numbers and could play a significant role in battleground states like Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado.
''John McCain's been a hero, but increasingly his party has gone hard right on immigration, and it may cost him the presidency,'' Sharry said.
McCain's Hispanic supporters, though, say Hispanic voters know where McCain stands, and they're confident he continues to back a path to legalization. His running mate Sarah Palin's stance on immigration is largely unknown.
''There's a lot to be proud of with Sen. McCain and Hispanic issues,'' said Miami Republican Rep. David Rivera. “His record on immigration has always been one of inclusion.''
Outgoing Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio said Hispanic voters have broader interests — including healthcare and family values.
''My concern for the party is not that it talk about immigration reform at its convention, but that the rhetoric that immigrants aren't welcome not have a home in the Republican Party,'' he said.
In an interview before his speech Thursday, Martinez defended McCain's advocacy for border control, saying he hadn't shifted positions.
'He was acknowledging reality, which was, `Hey, we're not going to get this done if we don't secure the border first,' '' said Martinez, who championed McCain's legislation.
Martinez, a Cuban native whose speech centered on McCain's national defense credentials, noted that Democrats at their convention last week didn't put a priority on immigration reform either.
''I don't know that either one of these candidates, if they get elected president, will immediately embark upon immigration reform,'' Martinez said.
“It's become kind of like Social Security. Nobody wants to touch it. It's such a politically difficult and divisive issue.''
No. 2 Is Star of The Show
Truce Reached Over Immigration
Campaign: It Once Caused A Rift Between Mccain And Other Conservatives, But They Have Found Unity, For Now.
By Jim Miller and Ben Goad
The Press Enterprise (Riverside, CA.), September 4, 2008
St. Paul — Republican John McCain's primary campaign almost collapsed last year under the weight of opponents' attacks that he backed 'amnesty' for illegal immigrants.
As McCain prepares to accept his party's nomination for president tonight, past critics of the Arizona senator's position have rallied behind his candidacy.
McCain, meanwhile, has backed away from signature immigration legislation and signed off on a party platform that makes a fence along the Mexican border a priority.
The party's Twin Cities unity on immigration bridges, for now, an increasingly charged ideological rift for Republican candidates and campaigns.
'We don't go around talking about things we disagree with John on,' said Jon Fleischman, a California delegate and the publisher of the Flash Report, a conservative Web site. 'Even taking those into account, he's vastly better than Barack Obama.'
Added Mike Madrid, a Latino political consultant: 'The family feud is over now.'
McCain inflamed immigration critics in 2005 when he and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., introduced sweeping legislation that would have provided a path to citizenship for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants now in the U.S.
Many Republicans rejected the bill, describing it as amnesty for people who had broken the law.
Teresa Dix, a Republican delegate from Lake Elsinore, initially supported former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for the presidency and was wary of McCain's position on immigration.
On Wednesday, Dix said she was convinced that the Arizona senator was attuned to the financial toll of illegal immigration in Inland Southern California.
'I think he understands that we're very concerned about the effects on our economy,' Dix said. 'It's crippling.'
Added Rep. David Dreier, R-San Dimas, 'He fought like a tiger for his bill, and he failed. Now he's gotten the message.'
Still a Priority
Campaign spokesman Rick Gorka said McCain would quickly move to enact the more widely accepted portions of his comprehensive immigration reform plan, if he is elected. Foremost among that, he said, is a strengthened border.
He rejected the notion that McCain has flip-flopped on the issue. McCain, he said, would still favor a path to citizenship, provided that undocumented immigrants pay taxes and learn to speak English.
The GOP platform has stronger language. Adopted Monday, it refers to 'illegal aliens' and rails against so-called sanctuary cities, opposes giving driver's licenses or in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants, and condemns any form of amnesty.
'The rule of law suffers if government policies encourage or reward illegal activity,' the platform reads.
'The American people's rejection of en masse legalizations is especially appropriate given the federal government's past failures to enforce the law.'
Appealing to Latinos
Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia, R-Cathedral City, said a hard party line on immigrants could make it harder for Republicans to attract Latino voters. In July, the nonpartisan Field Poll found that Latinos preferred Obama to McCain 64 percent to 21 percent.
'The party's platform is written by and supported by the Republican Party activists. It's not written by the general American public,' Garcia said.
McCain, she said, has tried to address the issue fairly, he said.
'Whether you agree with him or disagree with him on immigration, he's working on the issue,' she said.
That McCain has remained to the left of his party's conservative base on immigration shows the bipartisan appeal that Republicans hope will bring votes to the GOP ticket in November, said Bill McLaughlin, a delegate from Upland.
'We have to reach across the aisle,' he said. 'McCain has been very successful at finding ways to make things work.'
A June USA Today/Gallup survey found Obama essentially tied with McCain on handling illegal immigration.
The Democratic platform calls for more spending on border security. It also sets out a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally. The Democrats' platform does not mention 'illegal aliens.'
'Passions fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers,' Sen. Obama, D-Ill., said in his acceptance speech last Thursday.
During the Republican convention's first three days, no high-profile speaker had mentioned the subject.
Immigration wasn't always such a volatile topic, said Stu Spencer, a former advisor to President Reagan, who signed landmark immigration legislation in 1986.
It increasingly became one. In 1994, California voters approved Prop. 187, which would have denied social services to people in the country illegally. Courts later prevented it from taking effect.
In recent years, business groups, backed by President Bush, have tried to get Congress to approve temporary worker programs. Immigration critics, including some in the mass media, have bitterly opposed those efforts.
The debate fueled the GOP primary fight for the 2008 nomination. Romney trashed McCain for supporting 'amnesty.' Romney has since endorsed McCain.
Some past rivals are still unhappy. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., whose aborted presidential campaign centered on criticizing illegal immigration, recently told the National Journal that McCain was the 'lesser of two evils' on the issue.