What Are the Candidates Saying about Immigration? Tancredo on Immigration Reform
The Colorado Congressman from Littleton announced his intention to run for President in late January even though he has no intention of becoming the President of the United States. You can watch his announcement here. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) is running because he is keeping good on an old promise he made to run for president if other candidates didn't make immigration a top priority -- and he is doing just that. "I operate under no illusions of being nominated, but I could influence the direction of the debate." He launched his campaign this year, "Tom Tancredo 2008 for a Secure America," with its number one issue: securing our borders.
Tom Tancredo is angry about immigrants. He has said they, specifically the undocumented kind, are "a scourge that threatens the very future of our nation." Tancredo is also adamantly set on the notion that immigrants who come here today are not assimilating. "We have a cult of multiculturalism. This is what permeates our society... Immigrants who come to the United States but refuse to assimilate by learning the language and following the laws water down what it means to be an American... It's a cultural, political, linguistic tower of Babel." Tancredo supports the establishment of English as the official language of the United States. He says immigrants today are" not coming here to be American" like the immigrants of the past. One of the purported reasons he changed careers from a school teacher to a politician was his anger over the creation of bilingual programs in his school. His criticisms of immigrants reached xenophobic heights when he recently stated that Miami resembled a third world country because of its immigrant population.
Tancredo was the chair of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus from its inception in 1999 through this month. Its chief agenda is to push for restrictionist immigration policies. All but two of its members are Republican and most are to the far right of their party. Some critics say that because the group's proposals are so far out of the mainstream they have been unsuccessful in getting the national party to adopt their recommendations while others credit the caucus with many of the ultimate provisions of the immigration bill passed by the House last Spring. Some of their recommendations in the past have included reducing visa numbers for refugees and denying U.S. citizenship to babies born to undocumented immigrants on U.S. soil (in defiance of the U.S. Constitution). Tancredo stepped down from his chairmanship this month stating that he would like to see "new blood" in its leadership.
Securing the border with Mexico is Tancredo's main focus. Of course, he won a big victory in December when the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was signed into law -- a scheme he had been touting for some time (he spearheaded the vote on the legislation). He has been a longtime advocate of increasing our spending on border security and hiring more Border Patrol agents. What he would really like to see is the construction of a fence along the entire border. He supports the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants and is a staunch opponent of most guest workers programs (although his own legislation had a restrictive version of one outlined below) out of his belief that they reward lawbreaking immigrants. Tancredo is out to convince Americans that immigrants drain our social services. He has spoken out against spending taxpayer money on education, healthcare and other state and local services for undocumented immigrants. Needless to say he is adamantly opposed to any program that would offer a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants who are already here -- which he calls "amnesty" across the board.
Tancredo is a big supporter of increasing crackdowns on businesses that hire undocumented immigrants. Not surprisingly, he commended Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on their recent tide of workplace raids. In fact, he went so far as to send a letter to Julie Myers, the ICE assistant secretary, urging her to expand the raids to other industries. He has supported legislation to increase fines on employers who hire undocumented workers, toughen penalties for smugglers, and impose automatic deportation on immigrants apprehended on the border.
Tancredo is considered far out of the mainstream by Democrats and Republicans alike. He has been an outspoken critic of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle and the President for not being tough enough on the issue of illegal immigration. He finds his only allies on the fringes of the debate. In fact, I took a look into who his allies actually are. One of Tancredo's biggest donors is the family of Dr. John Tanton, founder and board member of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a group considered on the fringe by most involved in the immigration debate for their xenophobic ads and thier focus on eliminating illegal immigration as well as promoting English as the national language of the United States. FAIR blames immigrants for crime, poverty, disease and even traffic and sprawl. The treasurer of Tancredo's Presidential campaign is Kenneth C. McAlpin who was a former deputy director at FAIR, and is the executive director of ProEnglish, a group that advocates making English the official language of the U.S.
I dug a little deeper into FAIR only to find that the group had ties to the Pioneer Fund, a fund established for the sole purpose of promoting research into Eugenics (although FAIR now say ties have been severed). FAIR's Executive Director, Dan Stein, was quoted as calling China's forced abortion policy "international family planning" and has warned that certain immigrant groups are engaged in "competitive breeding" aimed at diminishing white power. Tanton himself is known for an op-ed he wrote which compared immigrants to bacteria.
Since 9/11 Tancredo's attempts to connect immigrants and terrorists have escalated beyond traditional restrictionist talk. Tancredo has been pushing the connection between U.S. border policy and terrorism, without facts to back it up, by making constant allusions to terrorists crossing the border. "We're not just simply opening borders for (illegal workers), we're opening borders for people who are coming here to kill us." When the Bank of America announced its plan last week to offer credit cards to people without Social Security numbers, Tancredo's initial response was that the bank might be aiding terrorists. He once characterized the "war on terrorism" as being against all Muslims. "I believe that what we are fighting here is not just a small group of people who have hijacked a religion, but it is a civilization bent on destroying ours." He suggested that Muslim holy sites should be bombed in response to any future terrorist attacks.
One way to understand Tancredo's ideal view of immigration reform is to look at the legislation he introduced in July of 2005, the Rewarding Employers that Abide by the Law and Guaranteeing Uniform Enforcement to Stop Terrorism (REAL GUEST) Act of 2005 (HR 3333). This bill would have, among other things, made unlawful presence a felony, deputized local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws and required hospitals treating undocumented immigrants who seek reimbursement from Emergency Medicaid to report such information to DHS. The bill was also very focused on increasing technology and surveillance to reduce the overall flow of immigrants to the U.S. by "sealing the border" and implementing a policy of mass deportation. The bill created a temporary worker program more temporary in nature than anything realistically on the table today. Tancredo's proposal would have allowed workers outside of the U.S., after a complex screening process, to enter the U.S. for no more than one year to work. After that time, they would have to leave the U.S. for another year before being eligible to return. Employers would have to show not just that no U.S. worker could be found for the job (a requirement in most temporary worker proposals) but also that no U.S worker could be trained in under a year for the position. These temporary workers would not be eligible to adjust their status to other than temporary worker while in the U.S. and the legislation stated that children born to these workers on U.S. soil would not be U.S citizens.
Last Spring Tancredo voted in favor of The Border Protection, Anti-terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act (also known as "the House bill"). Not only has Tancredo been a major sponsor and supporter of draconian legislation in the House, but he has threatened to attempt to block any reform at all if it is not his style of reform. In March of last year, Tancredo, along with 70 other members of the House, sent a letter to Arlen Specter (R-PA) then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was, at the time, debating comprehensive immigration reform measures. The letter called many of the pending legislative proposals in the Senate "thinly disguised attempts to provide amnesty" and warned that if any of these proposals came out of the committee it would "doom any chance of a real reform bill reaching the President's desk this year."
Tancredo calls his approach "common sense." He is right that our current system just is not working. He is right that the system today favors corporate interests. But a common sense approach says that we should prioritize an immigration reform policy that will maintain our robust economy (held up by immigrant labor, consumers and entrepeneurs) and help middle class Americans keep jobs that allow them to earn a middle class standard of living. His assertion that ending illegal immigration is good for our country, let alone possible, is absurd. And his xenophobia only serves to divide us, rather than unite against corporate domination in this sphere. He encourages people to ask candidates about immigration, and I thank him for that. Perhaps he will bring more focus to the issue of immigration in all of the campaigns. Let's hope that his proposals do not shift the debate away from enacting practical progressive reform.
For the rest of the posts in this series on where the candidates stand on immigration reform, please click here.