Thursday, October 21, 2004

It’s no secret that both presidential candidates are steering clear of discussions on immigration reform. The issue resonates with a majority of Americans on both sides of the aisle in such a way that makes it difficult to pander to any one voting bloc without severely offending another. President Bush addressed immigration reform during the 2000 election, saying he would make it a priority in his first term. Though that sputtered after September 11, the president returned to the issue earlier this year by proposing a guest-worker program, which, stricken of all its lofty rhetoric, we feel is simply amnesty lite. The problem is John Kerry’s plan is far worse.

Though Mr. Kerry has treated the immigration issue much as he has every other issue, he has in fact leaned toward amnesty fairly consistently. By his own account, he has supported amnesty for most of his Senate career. During the Democratic primary debates, Mr. Kerry answered a question on whether he supported amnesty by saying, “Absolutely … Let me say I’m not afraid to say it, I supported and was prepared to vote for amnesty from 1986. And unfortunately, the events of 9/11 obviously changed the capacity to do that.” But that of course was when he was fighting to secure the Democratic nomination, and no Democratic candidate could have appeared as “anti-immigrant,” legal or otherwise.

Since then, Mr. Kerry has softened his rhetoric, preferring the term “earned legalization” to amnesty. In last week’s third presidential debate, moderator Bob Schieffer broached the issue of amnesty and Mr. Kerry responded with an attack on Mr. Bush’s right flank: “The fact is we haven’t done what we need to do to toughen up our borders — and I will.” The last part of Mr. Kerry’s answer is the most telling: “We need an earned legalization program for people who’ve been here for a long time, stayed out of trouble, got a job, paid their taxes, and their kids are American. We’ve got to start moving them toward full citizenship, out of the shadows.” No matter which way you splice this statement, it’s a fairly clear endorsement of amnesty.

For his changing of terms, Mr. Kerry’s immigration plan has been criticized as ambiguous. We disagree. There is nothing ambiguous about it. Mr. Kerry knows full well how the Democratic voting machine works in the border states, and he’s not about to subvert his party’s interests no matter how unpopular amnesty remains with the American people.

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