Indiana just became a battleground state in the politics of immigration. Senator Evan Bayh announced Monday that he would not be seeking reelection. He was a solid vote for amnesty—and the man most likely to keep that Senate seat in Democratic hands.
Republicans now have a prime pickup opportunity—and so does the movement for patriotic immigration reform. One of the GOP candidates, former Rep. John Hostettler, was among the leaders in the fight against amnesty in the House. He's also someone willing to openly mention the immigration dimension of the jobs crisis and contemplate bold new policies to address it.
Consider: Middle-class wages are stagnant and employment opportunities are gloomy. Although the official unemployment rate dipped below 10 percent last month, the real economy still shed more than 22,000 private-sector jobs.
Over the same period, however, the federal government added about 125,000 immigrants and foreign "temporary" workers to the labor force, a total that could reach 1.5 million this year despite the lingering economic malaise.
And even though some 15.3 million Americans remain unemployed, it is estimated that roughly 8 million illegal immigrants continue to hold jobs in this country.
In this political and economic climate, an immigration moratorium—a policy of zero net immigration, with admissions equaling departures—would seem to have obvious appeal. There's just one odd problem: no politician seems willing to campaign on such an idea. Most would simply prefer to appeal tacitly to voters concerned about immigration levels without actually doing anything about them.
Until now. John Hostettler concentrated on immigration policy during his six terms in Congress. He relished the opportunity to contrast his views with Bayh's in a general election—and may now get an even bigger opening with Bayh out of the race.
"Evan Bayh voted for amnesty in the Senate", Hostettler says of the "comprehensive immigration reform bill" (S. 2611) that passed the Senate in May 2006. "I stopped it in the House". Hostettler was chairman of the House Immigration, Border Security, and Claims Subcommittee when it refused to consider McCain-Kennedy-style machinations and instead took an enforcement-first position on illegal immigration.
As such, Hostettler was an underappreciated part of the team that killed amnesty in the House when it appeared to be hurtling toward bipartisan approval. Then-Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) led the troops in the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus—of which Hostettler was a member—in a revolt. House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) also stood firm. And Hostettler, as head of the relevant subcommittee, rounded out the GOP's opposition.
In the end, the Washington Post reported, 75 percent of the House Republican Conference opposed the "comprehensive" approach to illegal immigration. (Immigration Deal at Risk as House GOP Looks to Voters, By Jim VandeHei and Zachary A. Goldfarb, May 28, 2006). So the amnesty that late Ted Kennedy and his partner in crime John McCain pushed through the Senate—with President George W. Bush's blessing—died in the House.
Hostettler, by contrast, favors a strategy of enforcement through attrition. "The main thing to do is shut off the jobs magnet", he told me in an interview. "We are already seeing where that can work without any 'mass deportation'". While still in the House, Hostettler co-wrote an op-ed with his predecessor as House immigration subcommittee chairman, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), showing that illegal immigrants are a distinct minority in virtually every occupation where they are presumed to be indispensable. [Illegals hurt Americans, By John Hostettler and Lamar Smith, Washington Times, December 2, 2005]
"These are not jobs Americans won't do", Hostettler maintains. "These are jobs Americans and Hoosiers can't do at the wage rates offered in a labor market distorted by illegal immigration."
Yet Hostettler goes beyond the standard Republican critique of illegal immigration. He supported the efforts of the late Rep. Barbara Jordan, the courageous black congresswoman who chaired the commission that nearly delivered meaningful immigration reform and reduction under the Clinton administration. And Hostettler supports an immigration moratorium today.
"That goes back even further than the Jordan Commission", Hostettler says. "The idea that a country cannot sustain indefinitely unlimited immigration was endorsed by the Hesburgh Commission. Father Hesburgh was no right-wing xenophobe."
Neither is Hostettler, although his opponents are likely to portray him as such. He is a measured and thoughtful voice for patriotic immigration reform, typically judicious in his rhetoric and impeccably "citizenist" in his motivations. But he's not an establishment favorite in either party.
Republican bigwigs first turned to Rep. Mike Pence, the conservative media-savvy chairman of the House Republican Conference. Overall, Americans for Better Immigration gives Pence a B + for his immigration-reform voting record. But his Pence plan on illegal immigration was essentially the Vernon Krieble Foundation's guest-worker proposal masquerading as a compromise to divide the House Republicans in their opposition to amnesty.
It didn't work. In 2006, the Hostettler enforcement-first position carried the day within the House Republican Conference. And Pence decided to take a pass on the Senate race, after a Rasmussen poll showed statistically about even with Hostettler in head-to-head match-ups against Bayh.
According to Rasmussen, Pence led Bayh by three points, 47 percent to 44 percent. Hostettler trailed Bayh by three, 44 percent to 41 percent. A third candidate, state Sen. Marlin Stutzman, was 12 points behind Bayh.
Pence thought it better to stay put in the House, where he is poised to continue rising up the Republican leadership ranks. Hostettler stayed in, looking forward to a race against Bayh.
Then the Republicans retrieved from the Washington lobbying business former Sen. Dan Coats—the same fellow who left his Senate seat because he didn't want to face Bayh in the 1998—for another go at it. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is reportedly going to help him get on the primary ballot (Hostettler is relying on grassroots supporters and Tea Party volunteers).
Americans for Better Immigration awarded Coats a D for his voting record on the issue—worse than Bayh's C+ and nowhere in the same league as Hostettler's A+. And a Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll, showed Bayh strong—and Coats running two points behind Hostettler in the general election.
Of course, the Daily Kos poll assumed that voter turnout would resemble the patterns of 2008. But those aren't the voters who turned out during the recent Republican triumphs in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.
Now Evan Bayh himself has seen the handwriting on the wall. Two years ago, Barack Obama carried Indiana. Now Bayh—the biggest name in state Democratic politics and a senator who won 62 percent of the vote in 2004—has opted to retire rather than face defeat.
The rap against Hostettler is that he doesn't raise enough money—he refuses PAC donations on principle—and will require too much help from a national party with resources it would prefer to commit to states of less reddish hue.
There is also the small matter of his independence, and not just on immigration. Hostettler was one of just six House Republicans to vote against the Iraq war in 2002. He hasn't backed down on the matter since.
But these "problems" may resolve one another. Ron Paul's Internet "money bombs" have been imitated by other antiwar Republicans and have been successful at bringing in large sums of money. In 2009, Peter Schiff raised nearly $1.5 million in Connecticut despite dismal poll numbers. Rand Paul brought in $1.8 million in Kentucky.
That's not enough money to keep pace with whomever the Democratic Party bosses pick to replace Bayh. But it's a good start—and the numbers are likely to get better this year as voters and activists become more engaged.
Without Evan Bayh in the race, moreover, the Democrats can no longer count on a candidate who has a $13 million campaign war chest.
Thanks to John Hostettler, patriots contemplating an immigration moratorium finally have their candidate.
And thanks to Evan Bayh, they may finally have their moment.
W. James Antle III (email him), associate editor of The American Spectator, writes from outside Washington D.C. He profiled Hostettler in the June 17, 2006 issue of The American Conservative. [PDF 1, 2, 3]