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Republicans Debate: Whither Legal Immigration?

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Small business finally elbowed its way into the Republican conversation last night, if only briefly. The venue was the YouTube debate on CNN, the subject was immigration, and it highlighted the mixed emotions, even confusion, that roils the GOP when its candidates tackle the topic.

The question, for Tom Tancredo, came from Jack Brooks of Cambridge, Maryland, and his employees. They said:

Hammered by competition with imports, our family-owned business struggles each year to find seasonal workers. We've been working with a seasonal guest-worker program, the H2B program, bringing in and sending home workers every year. But with Congress failing to enact a comprehensive immigration and guest worker bill, I want to know whether I'll have a job next year. What are you going to do to keep these guest workers coming to the U.S. to save our business?

This was red meat for the congressman from Colorado, who replied:

I'm not going to aid any more immigration into this country, because in fact, immigration...both legal and illegal, does a couple of things. [It] makes it difficult for us to assimilate. The other thing is that it does take jobs.....I reject the idea, categorically, that there are jobs that "no American will take." ....There are some jobs Americans won't take for what I can get any illegal immigrant to do that job for....But am I going to feel sorry if a business has to increase its wages in order for somebody in this country to make a good living? No, I don't feel sorry about that and I won't apologize for it for a moment. And there are plenty of Americans who will do those jobs.

It was a mistake, I think, to waste this question on a xenophobe and borderline racist. (Congressman Tancredo has spent much of the campaign not apologizing for outlandish views.) But when moderator Anderson Cooper turned to Tancredo's fellow congressman and dark horse, Rep. Duncan Hunter, the conservative from California took credit for building a fence on the border south of San Diego.

It was a shame that Cooper let this go, because Hunter took the easy way out by conflating illegal immigration with an entirely legal visa program. Who doesn't oppose smugglers and night crossings? I'd like to have heard what the mainstream candidates (particularly Romney and Thompson, whose views seem purposefully obscure) think about immigration generally. Especially when the aliens aren't -- how do I put this delicately? -- white. Take law and order out of the equation, and does immigration become a cultural issue or an economic issue? Which side trumps?

Last updated: Nov 29, 2007




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