Why exactly would any undocumented immigrant worker come out of the woodwork for George Bush’s promise to give them a three-year temporary work permit? Well, none, really. So why in the world would he propose it? Answering that is a little more complicated, but it speaks volumes about the administration’s difficulty in keeping its coalition together.
If you are an undocumented worker, you’d have to be crazy to take this deal: most undocumented are in this country to get a better life, not to hang out for three years and then go home. Compare Bush’s deal with the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), passed in 1986: that law gave undocumenteds amnesty–without, it should be noted, increasing illegal immigration to this country one bit.
Here’s Bush’s problem: he’s got to look tough on immigration to please the base. But he also wants to attract the Latino vote, which is hard to do given his policies. So what he does is issue a totally cosmetic guest-worker program that does nothing, and combine it with a lot of tough-sounding enforcement measures.
The key is to get all the elements of the coalition to play along. So:
Univision, the nation’s largest Spanish-language television network, keeps broadcasting the theme of “las visas Bush” to its watchers.
Large agricultural interests push hard for this thing because it gives them a way to avoid employer sanctions while maintaining absolute control over their impoverished workers. Under current law, growers threaten workers with reporting them to “La Migra”; if Bush’s plan passes, all they need to do is fire them and THEN report them–their work permits expire if they don’t hold a job.
So far, so good. Bush gets to pretend to Latinos that he’s generous, help out his large business buddies, and tell the base that he is being tough on border control.
But now the right wing has disrupted the whole thing by insisting that Bush’s proposal is too generous, even though it does absolutely nothing for immigrants. The extreme right is so fired up after the Miers’ debacle that it isn’t even hearing the dog whistle anymore. One can imagine a frustrated Rove now: “Will you guys just shut up?! This is nothing!”
The problem for the Republicans is that once you start letting scapegoating rhetoric out of the bottle, it’s hard to delicately manipulate it. It takes on a life of its own. Especially on issues like immigration, the GOP has fed its base so much red meat that it won’t take anything else. It’s been hoisted on its own petard. And I don’t feel the least bit sorry for them.