- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2005

House Democrats and Republicans have found rare common ground on immigration — chastising the White House for failing to fund most of the 2,000 Border Patrol agents called for in last year’s intelligence-overhaul law.

In House and Senate hearings last week, Democrats took the lead in calling for Mr. Bush to rethink his budget proposal, which was submitted last month and funded only 210 of the new agents, and found themselves joined by Republicans in those calls.

“There isn’t a divide, and should not be a divide, on the question of terrorism and the potential for an attack on the American people. And that’s why I think, even today, the administration has an opportunity to reconsider their decision and change it,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary immigration, border security and claims subcommittee.

She said that the new agents are particularly important because of the increasing flow of so-called “OTM” — “other than Mexican” — illegal immigrants across the Mexican border.

With Mr. Bush pushing immigration “guest-worker” legislation near the top of his political agenda, Democrats appear to have found part of the issue on which they can run to the right of the president and possibly negate a key political advantage of his.

“They can attack him, because the one thing the president had to offer during that last election was he was perceived as being stronger when it came to national security, national defense, than was Kerry,” Rep. Tom Tancredo, the Colorado Republican who leads the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, said referring to Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, last year’s Democratic presidential nominee.

“If he loses that allure for the American public — combine it with all the other attacks being made on him — they believe they can clearly weaken his presidency. They can take away the one thing he has,” Mr. Tancredo said.

Still, he said he thinks Democratic support on this issue is mere political calculation.

On the broader questions of immigration policy, a new poll released last week found little support for either a guest-worker program that applies to illegal immigrants or for increasing the level of legal permanent immigration into the United States, both of which were parts of Mr. Bush’s immigration proposal from January 2004.

Asked about a guest-worker program that applies to illegal aliens already in the United States, the Westhill Partners/Hotline poll found 57 percent opposed, including 43 percent who “strongly” opposed it. Meanwhile, just 38 percent supported such a program, including only 15 percent who “strongly” supported it.

Democratic pollster Ed Reilly and Republican strategist Ed Rollins conducted the poll of 800 registered voters, which has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Mr. Reilly said Democrats can find a political opening to win support among immigration opponents, particularly if Democrats can propose “a law-and-order message linked to an amnesty program.”

“The real opportunity here is to align their interests with the middle-class families on economics and homeland security,” he said. “My belief on this, seeing the data here, is that the issue of enforcement of the rules — creating fair competition for employment opportunity, education opportunity, health care opportunity — is very powerful.”

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