California, with the nation’s largest illegal-immigrant population, will soon be governed by a man who opposes issuing driver’s licenses to such aliens but supports granting them in-state tuition rates and favors a broad amnesty.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, who won last week’s recall election and will be sworn in after the votes are certified, has indicated he will be active on the issues at the state and federal level.
“When it comes to foreign workers, to undocumented immigrants, I will make sure that if you’re going to work in that direction, it’s one of the things that I will be talking about with the federal government,” he said in his postelection news conference.
Several lawmakers in Congress, including Reps. Jim Kolbe and Jeff Flake, both Arizona Republicans, have urged Mr. Schwarzenegger to use his position to push for a federal legalization program. And Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates immigration limits, said that Mr. Schwarzenegger is now a substantial figure in the immigration debate.
“There’s two kinds of things he can do: actually change a state policy on the one hand, and try to influence federal policy on the other,” Mr. Krikorian said.
“If the new celebrity movie-star governor of California testifies at a congressional hearing or speaks at news conferences … that amnesty is a good idea, that can have a very powerful, harmful effect in lending weight to the arguments for amnesty,” he said.
Mr. Schwarzenegger, an immigrant himself, has spoken about the opportunities he received, and Mr. Krikorian said the new governor might be a powerful advocate for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities for illegal immigrants.
Some observers said they expect Mr. Schwarzenegger to seek a middle-ground approach to immigration.
“I expect Arnold to do with the illegal-immigration issue exactly what he’s done with all the other contentious issues — that’s to go right down the center,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, who supports stricter immigration controls.
“He will be going much further towards normalizing illegal immigrants’ status in the United States than those of us on the other side of the issue. But he will not be going as far as the Democratic Party,” Mr. Rohrabacher said.
“He’s the governor. All I know is he’s more approachable and will be better on this issue than if Gray Davis or [Cruz] Bustamante remained,” he said, referring to the outgoing governor and the lieutenant governor, respectively.
Those on the other side of the issue said they are waiting to see what Mr. Schwarzenegger does.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat and member of the House immigration subcommittee, said Mr. Schwarzenegger’s stance on immigration remains a mystery.
“On this issue, as with most issues, he didn’t really establish a policy during the campaign,” she said.
She said he seemed to endorse an “expansive legalization” in his news conference the day after the election.
Luis Arteaga, executive director of the San Francisco-based Latino Issues Forum, said with the state in lean economic times and Mr. Schwarzenegger having promised not to raise taxes, the governor will be tempted to trim social programs, especially ones that serve immigrants.
“He’s not going to touch education. So that leaves prisons — which I doubt he’s going to let prisoners go early — or you’re going to cut health and human services,” Mr. Arteaga said. “That was the path of the [Republican Gov. Pete] Wilson administration, but also you saw that on the national level with welfare reform.”
Mr. Arteaga said another concern is how Mr. Schwarzenegger will affect relations with Mexico. Mexican officials already are sounding worried.
“The very discriminatory message that he has delivered at certain times against Mexican migrants is not something that encourages us. It’s totally the opposite,” said Rep. Carlos Jimenez, secretary of the foreign relations committee in the lower house of Mexico’s Congress, according to the Associated Press.
But Joe Guzzardi, who ran on a platform of controlling immigration as one of the 135 candidates on the ballot to succeed Mr. Davis, said Mr. Schwarzenegger will have to remember what put him in office.
“I think it’s going to be up to the people of California to get busy and remind him where he owes his allegiance to. It’s basically the middle-class, working person in California that put him into office,” he said. “If he starts talking about amnesty and guest workers, his support will erode before he gets to Sacramento.”
Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said he is not sure how much stock to put in the next governor’s support of amnesty or a guest-worker bill, but he was encouraged by Mr. Schwarzenegger’s support for some curbs, like Proposition 187, the 1994 measure that prohibited taxpayer-funded services for illegal immigrants.
“There’s a lot in his background, in his previous positions, that suggests he’s going to be a lot stronger on internal enforcement and banning services,” Mr. Stein said.
Various exit polls showed many Californians were motivated to vote because of their opposition to allowing illegal aliens to obtain driver’s licenses, a measure signed by Mr. Davis before the election.
In particular, a Luntz Poll, commissioned by Mr. Stein’s group, found the driver’s license issue was as important for voters as taxes. The poll also showed 20 percent of those who voted were “much more likely” to support recalling Mr. Davis because of the licenses, while only 4 percent were strongly supportive of Mr. Davis on the issue.