Candidate platforms avoid tough immigration issues
This is second in a series of stories that will examine issues of the presidential campaign.
A strong economy and a shrinking labor pool have made immigrants
welcome in America's heartland -- one strong reason why complex immigration
issues have barely surfaced in the presidential campaign.
There also is no mention in the candidates' platforms of topics
hotly debated in
South Florida, such as the controversial ``wet foot, dry foot'' provision in the Cuban
Adjustment Act. That Clinton administration policy enables Cubans who make it
to land to stay here, but is perceived as an inequity by Haitians and other
migrants who, if apprehended, are usually deported.
``Immigration is a nonissue,'' says James E. Garcia, editor of
influential online magazine for Hispanics. ``People around the country say Latin
Americans and Asian workers are an essential part of the economy, and the last
thing on their minds are Haitians.''
It is not as if George W. Bush and Al Gore do not have first-hand
immigration issues, or lack sensitivity, experts and Hispanic leaders say. If there
is a difference, it is that Bush supports legal immigration like Gore, but the vice
president appears to be willing to help legalize the status of some undocumented
The Texas governor speaks passable Spanish, comes from a border
immigration policy is hotly debated, enjoys a close relationship with influential
citizens in Mexico, and has Mexican-American family members.
According to Hispanic leaders, Bush has caused the Republican
traditionally less friendly to immigrants, supportive of English-only legislation, and
critical of extending welfare and healthcare aid to migrants -- to be essentially
neutral on immigration issues, because he is courting Latino votes.
But he has also remained silent on issues of great concern to
groups, such as the increasing militarization of the Southwest border with
Mexico. His suggestions for reform in immigration matters often are not backed
up by specific details.
Gabriela Lemus, Washington-based policy director for the League
of United Latin
American Citizens -- the nation's largest and oldest Hispanic grass-roots
organization -- said Bush has not responded to a request from the organization in
early September for comment on its legislative platform.
The Gore-Lieberman campaign, by contrast, responded in four weeks
cases in far greater detail than we outlined in our own platform.'' Lemus said she
interprets Bush's lack of a response to what she said is the candidate's lack of
specifics on immigration issues.
Gore has offered backing for four pieces of immigration-related
before Congress, and he is opposed to a GOP-backed bill that would create an
agriculture-related guest worker program because it does not provide for housing
and other benefits.
But like Bush, Gore has talked about the need to seal the United
illegal migration, and has backed the administration's drive to build border fences
and vastly boost the number of INS enforcement agents.
On the ``wet foot, dry foot'' topic, the vice president has a
position, even if he has
not spelled it out in his literature.
Liz Lubow, his Florida press secretary, said, ``Al Gore supports
the current policy
as a reasonable balance that respects both the unique circumstances that drive
people to leave a communist dictatorship, and a need for fair immigration laws,''
which protect the United States from illegal migration.
Bush may not have spelled out his position, but he told The Herald
in an interview
in September ``I wouldn't change the policy.'' He said, however, ``I don't know all
Miami immigration lawyer Luis Nuñez said Bush and Gore
are probably more
alike on immigration issues than any two presidential candidates in history.
Their campaign platform positions are similar on many immigration-related
matters, he said, including making the Immigration and Naturalization Service
more customer friendly, boosting the number of H-1B visas issued to technically
skilled foreigners, and keeping migrant families together instead of deporting them
while their applications are being processed.
``The only issue left,'' he said, ``is, will the candidates deliver?''
One point of divergence is the structure of the INS.
While both candidates say they favor reforming the agency, Bush
says he would
split the INS into two agencies run by a single associate attorney general. One
would be service oriented and handle matters such as visas and naturalization;
the other would handle enforcement of immigration laws. Gore says he favors
streamlined bureaucracy, not more.
``Dividing the INS is just an idea,'' said LULAC's Lemus, doubtfully.
``It's not a new
one, and he didn't say what his plan was'' when he proposed it at LULAC's
Dag Vega, deputy spokesman for the Gore-Lieberman campaign, says
other immigration topics that set Gore and Bush apart, even if they have not
surfaced as important campaign issues.
He cited the vice president's support for amending the NACARA
Act of 1997 --
which permitted Nicaraguans and Cubans to gain permanent residence if they
lived in the U.S. continuously since Dec. 1, 1995 -- to include Haitians and
``There were many Central Americans and Haitians who fled human
or untenable conditions who found themselves treated differently,'' Vega said.
``[Gore] feels he should correct this long-standing injustice.''
Politico's Garcia said Bush comes from a state ``where it would
be suicidal to
have an anti-immigrant policy and attempt to run for office.''
The governor's relative tolerance of immigrants sets him apart
from other GOP
leaders, he said. In Texas, in contrast to California and Florida, ``there are an
enormous number of public officials who are Hispanic. But that's been a trend for
Bush early on decided ``You can't bash immigrants . . . His positions
immigration are essentially the same as the Clinton administration. That's both
good and bad: If you talk to immigration advocates, they are not happy with the
He said Gore has missed an opportunity to attack his opponent
on his lack of a
stand against ``locking down the border at McAllen, Texas.'' But then, he said,
both candidates have made it clear that they favor taking strong measures to
secure the border, and both have said the idea of an open border proposed to
them recently by Mexico president-elect Vicente Fox is a bad idea.
Cecila Muñoz, Washington-based immigration policy advisor
to the National
Council for La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic organization, said the governor
has opposed extending some poverty program benefits to immigrant children.
She said an endorsement by Bush of pending legislation favored
by the council,
and many Hispanic leaders, is missing, and that troubles her.