Almost all national immigration reform leaders believe that their cause will be won in a series of major offensive battles rather than in a single all-or-nothing victory. Unfortunately, since September 11th, immigration reform has won a few skirmishes – including the important negative achievement of stalling the Bush Administration's proposed amnesty for illegals - but nothing that qualified as a major offensive victory.
This week saw the first big win for immigration reform. Almost unnoticed outside of the Indian press, on Wednesday, October 1st 2003, Congress cut the notorious H-1B visa program by two-thirds, from 200,000 back to 65,000.
At the height of the bubble four years ago, Congress expanded the H-1B visa program. Fortunately, immigration reformers were able to insert a sunset provision to repeal the increase at the end of the 2003 Fiscal Year unless Congress legislated otherwise.
For months, there has been talk among immigration enthusiasts about retaining the increase. But, when it came to the point, there was no political will in Congress even to bring legislation to the floor.
This is a big win.
Where will the next big battle lie?
On the legal immigration front, the next big win will be ending the "visa lottery" that lets any random foreigner anywhere in the world fill out a form and, if he gets lucky, win a work visa. That means that, at a time when Americans can't get jobs, Congress gives 50,000 random foreigners work visas! But ending the visa lottery requires Congressional action, so it may take a full year or two.
My own hunch: the next big fight will erupt on the illegal immigration front instead. Some of the private polling numbers I have seen suggest that no issue helps you more than opposing illegal immigration. No matter how biased the phrasing, by a 3:1 margin the public will tell pollsters they are more likely to vote for a candidate who favors a savage, harsh, "unfair" crackdown on illegals.
The skirmish to watch next week: the California gubernatorial race. The big news: neither Tom McClintock nor Arnold Schwarzenegger have been vaporized by touching the supposed third rail of illegal immigration - which the state GOP has been irrationally terrified about since Proposition 187. The forces of political correctness tried to attack Schwarzenegger for his opposition (admittedly muted) to illegal immigration. Schwarzenegger held his ground, more or less, and the politically-correct have switched to his alleged groping – because they know how massively unpopular illegal immigration has become in California.
The place to watch next year: the Presidential race. Somebody may get desperate, desperate enough to run hard against illegal immigration. After all, there are 10 Democrats, at least half of whom think they have a better than average chance of being President. There is the Green Party nomination, which may attract a rich environmentalist. Even Bush, if he gets far enough behind, might try to run on something populist. There may be somebody else.
The big lesson of today's H-1B repeal is this: the political establishment knows how powerful the immigration reform issue has now become.
Email Alex Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org