Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Bush Push Aims to Quiet Border Security Advocates

The White House attempts to build a propaganda machine to court Latinos and marginalize hard-liners.

WASHINGTON — After years of pandering to illegal aliens the Bush Administration is concerned that border security advocates are pushing Latinos away from the Republican Party and that the conservative wing of the Republican party is making inroads against its open-border policies.

The White House has hired political operatives to create a broad coalition of business groups and immigrant advocates to back a plan against the conservative wing of his own party and those groups taking steps to protect the US-Mexico border on their own and without the support of the federal government.

President Bush's push to pacify Americans concerned about national security and exploding illegal immigration has begun with the 2006 elections in mind.

Strategists say Bush's plan will go into action as soon as media focus on a Supreme Court vacancy has passed. The campaign is being planned to coincide with next year's campaigns for the House and Senate, in which Latino voters could be crucial in several states, and to thwart the growing independent effort to curb illegal immigration.

The new campaign is part of a broader White House strategy to forge a majority by drawing more minority voters from those being allowed into the country with the aid of the Mexican government and the tacit approval of the US federal government.

The president's propaganda campaign is aimed at the center of the controversy and will feature a softening of language, patriotic themes and a not-so-subtle attempt to make advocates against the open border policy seem childish and treasonous in their beliefs.

The campaign is to be called, "Americans for Border and Economic Security" and will be led by former U.S. Reps. Cal Dooley (D-Hanford) and Dick Armey (R-Texas). The chief organizer is one of the capital's most important White House allies: former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, who has hosted preliminary meetings at his Washington lobbying firm just blocks from the White House and has been advising the RNC on minority outreach.

The effort is designed to help Bush take control of an increasingly contentious debate that has threatened to split the Republican Party.

In January 2004 Bush proposed a guest-worker program that would be open to many illegal immigrants already in the U.S. and to prospective workers abroad. Many since then have recognized this plan as an outright "amnesty" and since that time illegal immigration has increased dramatically, groups of American citizens have sprung up to handle the situation on their own and the president's own party has seen a drop-off in support of Bush's policies.

A guest-worker program is naturally favored by many Latinos, who want to flee poverty-stricken Mexico, and by businesses — many of them major GOP donors — that depend on a steady flow of illegal aliens from Mexico and other countries that enable them to offer lower wages with decreased benefits. The White House effort is aimed at satisfying these groups while pacifying moderates in the Republican party and undecided voters by appearing to promote tougher border security enforcement while, at the same time, giving added weight to Bush's original "guest-worker" proposal.

The latter focus is an attempt to mollify the increasingly vocal bloc of cultural conservatives in the GOP — some in the House leadership — who argue that undocumented workers present a security threat and take jobs that could be filled by Americans.

The issue has presented a quandary for Bush, who backed off his earlier calls for immigration changes after conservatives rebelled. Now, the White House hopes to defuse the situation and also reinvigorate the drive for the guest-worker program — but this time it wants to work in advance to ensure that the president is backed by a broad alliance of business and Hispanic advocacy groups.

There are signs, however, that the administration effort is running into problems even as it begins: Several key business groups are hesitant to join the new coalition, questioning whether the administration can separate itself from the anti-illegal immigration wing of the GOP that is promoting border security. And the party's leading voices favoring stricter limits on immigration, such as Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), remain undaunted — pledging to intensify their efforts.

Coalition organizers say that makes their work all the more timely, coinciding with a burgeoning independent push by border security advocates.

"The politics of the Republican Party isn't going to change by itself. It needs help," said Terry Holt, a spokesman for Bush's 2004 reelection campaign, who works with Gillespie and is recruiting members for the new coalition. "Immigration needs advocates. And if those advocates engage, they can have a profound impact on the issue."

Referring to the Latino vote, which turned out in larger numbers last year for Bush than in his 2000 campaign, Holt added: "There are great opportunities for Republicans, and also dangers if we don't handle this properly."

Holt and Armey, who as House majority leader from 1995 to 2002 unsuccessfully challenged some of his fellow conservatives to soften their opposition to illegal immigration, said the new group's message would seek to isolate and demonize players such as Tancredo, who leads a House caucus that backs stiff border restrictions.

Holt and Armey say that Tancredo has succeeded in dominating the debate because of conservative talk radio and other advocates for limiting the influx of illegal aliens across the border. They hope that, with this new propaganda campaign, they can make inroads against the voices in favor of border security by using an orchestrated effort involving media sound bites and a well-funded media campaign.

"There's two voices right now, and the noisy one is what I call the slam-the-borders crowd," Armey said. "The voice we want to speak with — and the one that will be in unison with President Bush — is the voice that echoes those marvelous words on the Statue of Liberty."

"To me, the Tancredo wing appeals to the more prurient character of our nature," Armey added, purposefully describing the opposition with a word that is defined by "unwholesome interests" and "appealing to an unusual sexual desire."

Organizers of the media and political campaign say the new coalition is patterned after groups formed to press for Bush's overhaul of Social Security and his successful 2003 push for a Medicare prescription drug program — a new aspect of Republican strategy in which corporations and other interest groups are tapped to help move public opinion in favor of a policy initiative.

Corporations and advocacy groups with a direct interest in illegal immigration are being aggressively targeted for membership. Those being courted include Microsoft Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and groups representing academic institutions, restaurants, hotels, landscaping firms, hospitals and nurses.

Organizers say this is the first time an effort has been made to bring these disparate groups together to focus on illegal alien issues.

The Bush Administration plans to charge admission into the pro-illegal immigration coalition for between $50,000 and $250,000 per slot. The proceeds are expected to pay for a political-style campaign for an approach to illegal immigration that combines the promise of heightened border security with a guest-worker program of some sort, creating an environment that the White House believes will be more favorable for Bush to step back in front of the growing controversial issue.

Congressman Tom Tancredo says the administration is simply forging an alliance with business executives who view illegal immigrants as a path to greater profits.

"They know this has nothing to do with Hispanic votes," he said. "They're trying to cover what their real motive is, which is to supply [business] with cheap labor, to not close the spigot of cheap labor…. But they've lost in Congress. They've lost the public. And now they're in damage control."

Tancredo says that Bush is in bad spot politically, caught between public opinion favoring restrictive immigration policies and corporate interests that want looser policies. He said the apparent plans being laid by the new coalition seem to contrast with the message Bush gave to House leaders during a recent White House meeting: that the borders must be secured.

"I think he is trying to figure out a way to triangulate here," Tancredo said.

Corporate supporters of Bush, being courted by the new coalition, expressed disappointment at newly unveiled legislation from Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) that would create a strictly enforced guest-worker program that would require illegal immigrants to leave the country before applying for the chance to work legally. The White House has not endorsed the measure, but business lobbyists fear that Bush may fold to political pressure.

Another measure, sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), would set looser restrictions and allow undocumented workers to apply for guest-worker status without going home first. The White House has not given its opinion of this proposal either... leery of taking a stand on the issue that might alienate open border activists, its corporate supporters or members of its own political party.

There are about 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, according to several conservative estimates.



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