Reformers must heat up border talk

If only a few more Americans were as honest about their immigration opinions as the principled online columnist Rich Galen (www.mullings.com), we’d probably have avoided the Senate’s recent awkward fumble of immigration reform. If key Senators had understood that Galen is “Everyman” on this issue, they might have taken their eyes off of the polls and led us to a solution.

If only a few more Americans were as honest about their immigration opinions as the principled online columnist Rich Galen (www.mullings.com), we’d probably have avoided the Senate’s recent awkward fumble of immigration reform. If key Senators had understood that Galen is “Everyman” on this issue, they might have taken their eyes off of the polls and led us to a solution.

Galen had the guts to confess: “Here’s what I think about the immigration issue: I don’t know what I think. I agree with the last person I hear speaking about it.”

Like most of us, Galen struggles to reconcile competing beliefs about matters like the rule of law, secure borders, economic opportunity and compassion for one’s neighbor. His ambiguity reflects how most Americans really feel, but a plethora of polls have left the impression with too many lawmakers that voters possess a knowledgeable and logical set of firm beliefs about immigration. Nothing could be more incorrect.

The reality is that Americans want and need to be told by someone in the know how they should feel and act about this issue. Most Americans are so ill-informed and cross-pressured that asking them the typical battery of immigration-poll questions clarifies little.

Read the many polls on this issue as compiled by the independent, nonpartisan PollingReport.com. This will remind you there are a lot of Rich Galens out there, whose opinions must change from day to day, even moment to moment

Someone who favors a guest-worker program today is evidently likely to want to build a 2,000-mile wall tomorrow. Then the next day they tell a pollster to forget both options and instead bring the Army home from Iraq to patrol the border. Then a few minutes later they add, “Nah, just station a couple thousand fat vigilantes along the border.”

The paucity of informed and stable opinions about this issue has played into the hands of rabble-rousers who oppose meaningful solutions. Whenever voters don’t really grasp the factual underpinnings of an issue, they respond mostly to the rhetoric and symbols of the debate.

Opponents of comprehensive reform brandish the most powerful symbols. They can talk angrily of those who “break our laws,” “reduce our wages” and “burden our taxpayers.” Meanwhile, more thoughtful reformers are speaking about less emotive and more cerebral concepts like circular migration, paths to citizenship and “coming in from the shadows.”

Real reformers must step up the heat of their rhetoric or they’ll lose the rank-and-file American. Senators advocating a comprehensive solution that includes a guest-worker program must clearly and forcefully articulate the negative consequences of acting only on the House’s limited border-security plan.

They must expose the lie that we can and will round up and send home 11 million to 12 million immigrants living here illegally. I have polled voters in several key states on this matter, and huge majorities do not believe that wholesale expulsion is possible. So call the plan a lie.

Reform-minded senators must call out their opponents for proposing a “futile plan” that would “burden taxpayers with billions of dollars in costs” while “undermining national security” and “hampering local crime fighting” by diverting our military and police forces to identify, apprehend and expel workers.

Reformers must also speak the real truth about the economy. Without the workers, “farmers will suffer,” “food and housing costs will soar” and the important “tourism and hospitality industries will falter.”

Unless senators credibly establish alternative negative threats like these, the public will believe the simplistic House plan is the right approach to this issue.

Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.

More in David Webb

Webb: What the GOP, Dems must do now

Read more »