The immigration elephant

Published on October 24th, 2008

By Mark Cromer
Friday, October 24, 2008

The three presidential debates and single vice presidential debate are now behind us, and yet after nearly eight cumulative hours of the candidates regurgitating the sound bites they’ve honed (or dulled) on the stump, the nation has heard nary a word on immigration.

Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, and their senior campaign advisers, undoubtedly breathed a sigh of relief and wiped their brows when the final debate ended and the elephant in America’s living room had yet again gone unmentioned.

CBS news veteran Bob Schieffer followed the template set by PBS’s Jim Lehrer and Gwen Ifill, and NBC’s Tom Brokaw, and allowed both candidates to avoid facing tough questions about America’s immigration policy — a subject that both senators are loathe to address in front of 70 million viewers.

That they successfully dodged the issue completely during the debates may well suit the campaigns’ tactical needs, as the race for the White House enters the home stretch. But this is a disgraceful journalistic failure that bodes ill for the nation.

Immigration is a critical issue that permeates virtually every marquee domestic problem facing the country today: health care, education, jobs and the environment; and it also factors into issues of national security and foreign policy. Given the size of the foreign-born population in the United States today — more than 40 million — it’s difficult to imagine any policy initiative being successful that did not first address the fundamentals of immigration.

The candidates talked about the financial crisis, spending as much time attempting to affix blame as they did trying to convince voters they were the guy with the best plan to get the country back into solvency and then prosperity. They talked about earmarks and deficit spending. They talked about job losses and their plans to create new jobs.

And yet they said nothing about the millions of foreign laborers illegally in the United States that have driven millions of Americans out of a wide range of employment sectors and suppressed wages for citizens still working in those industries. They said nothing about the billions of dollars in tax revenues lost to this mammoth scam of the underground economy; or of the billions in dollars citizens are forced to pay to subsidize it.

Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama talked with ease about greedy corporate villains such as the executives at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Lehman Bros. and AIG, but kept mum on the suits at Howard Industries in Mississippi or Micro Solutions Enterprises in California — high-tech firms that were raided this year for employing nearly a thousand illegal immigrants in their manufacturing plants.

The candidates talked about the dramatic decline in the quality of public education in America today, and argued over charter schools, teacher accountability and the merit of increasing funding for a failing system. But they said nothing about the catastrophic impact that mass illegal immigration has wrought in thousands of public schools across the American Southwest, where school districts have been forced to cope with violently overcrowded schools and parents have watched classrooms turn into bilingual education labs at their children’s expense.

They talked about the critical challenges we face in the environment, but spoke not a word about America’s surging population growth — fueled almost entirely by immigration and births to immigrants — and the impacts that growth has on our vital resources, particularly water.

For either candidate to claim to support reducing consumption, be it petroleum or fresh water, without also supporting an end to population growth, is simply intellectually dishonest — akin to a doctor encouraging radiation therapy for a lung- and liver-cancer patient while declining to forcefully recommend that his patient stop smoking and drinking. And yet as the debates showcased, that’s precisely what a successive string of moderators allowed Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain to do by avoiding any substantive discussion of what immigration policy will be under their respective administrations.

Some may claim that since there isn’t much daylight between the two candidates on the issue of immigration, a discussion of this topic wouldn’t have amounted to much, but I suspect the opposite is true.

Mr. McCain was the co-architect of the "comprehensive immigration reform" legislation that would have resulted in the single largest mass amnesty for illegal immigrants in the history of nations — and Mr. Obama supported it. But the American people clearly and decisively rejected it.

Now in this time of national crisis, when economic peril looms large, both candidates should have been asked pointed questions on their intentions to reshape America’s immigration policy.

Just several months ago, Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain addressed the National Council of La Raza’s annual conference in California, where both men vowed to make sweeping changes to United States policy that would increase the flow of immigration. They should now have been required to answer that key question: Do they still plan to do that?

The issue that the two candidates were most reluctant to talk about is, in fact, the one they should have been grilled on most aggressively. The question for every informed voter must now be: What are they afraid to tell us?

Mark Cromer is a senior writing fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization.

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