If last week's election returns tell President Bush anything about immigration policy, it is that he ought to continue and even expand the "guest workers" program he unveiled last January. What was essentially an amnesty for illegal aliens, a reward for lawbreakers and an open invitation to the world to immigrate to this country seems to have benefited him.
That at least is the conclusion to which some—mainly the Open Borders lobby and politicians eager to believe it—are leaping.
And on its face it's not unreasonable. In 2000, Mr. Bush won some 35 percent of Hispanics, while his opponent Al Gore won 65 percent. Mr. Bush's share was an improvement over what GOP nominee Bob Dole won in 1996 (21 percent), but still not very good, especially compared to Mr. Gore's landslide Hispanic support.
The Open Borders lobby claims the GOP's poor performance with Hispanics is due to its support for immigration control. That's dubious, but it makes good propaganda.
This year, after Mr. Bush's amnesty proposal in January, some exit polls show Mr. Bush walked off with significant increases in Hispanic support. Nationally he's supposed to have won 44 percent to Sen. John Kerry's 53 percent—a majority, but not the landslide his predecessor took or what Democrats usually win. Mr. Bush, if these polls are accurate, won more Hispanic votes than any other Republican contender in history.
It looks like pandering pays, and maybe it does, but before you swallow the propaganda, look at the exit polls more closely.
There are good reasons for believing the exit poll data are deeply flawed, but even if we grant that they're accurate, they don't necessarily mean what the Open Borders boys say. Let's assume they're accurate for the sake of the discussion.
Most of the U.S. Hispanic population is centered in four states—New York, California, Texas, and Florida. If you average the Hispanic vote that Mr. Bush won in those states in 2000, you get his national average among Hispanics of that year, 35 percent. If you average what exit polls say he won this year in them, you get his national average among Hispanics last week—about 44 percent.
Mr. Bush increased his support among Hispanics in all four of these states, but in two—Florida and Texas—he did especially well. In the former, he increased his Hispanic support by 7 percent, to a sizeable 56 percent majority, and in his own state of Texas, he won a whopping 59 percent, 16 percent more than in 2000.
But in New York and California, the increases were not so large—only 6 and 4 percent respectively—to 24 percent and 32 percent in each state, well below his national support levels in 2000.
And these returns suggest a different explanation for why Mr. Bush did as well as he did among Hispanics.
It wasn't amnesty. It was him.
Mr. Bush won Hispanics in Texas because he's from Texas and has always run well with that community. He won some 39 percent of the state's Hispanics in 1998 as governor and 42 percent in 2000 as a presidential candidate.
In Florida, Mr. Bush did well among Hispanics for a couple of reasons. Florida Hispanics are still largely Cubans, and they traditionally support Republicans. Mr. Bush's brother is Florida's governor and has a Hispanic wife and son who campaigned for him (which helped the president among Hispanics elsewhere too).
And finally Mr. Bush is the incumbent president and a wartime president, which counts for something. It probably helped him even among his least supportive voting bloc, black voters, who supported him only slightly more than in 2000.
As for amnesty and all the pandering in which Mr. Bush wallowed to gain Hispanics, it may have helped him in California and New York but not very much. If his amnesty and immigration policies explained his Hispanic gains, the increases would have shown up more evenly in all four states—not just those in which he has a personal connection.
Finally, the Open Borders propagandists who love this year's exit polls so much don't seem to be quoting another one, from Arizona: Immigration control ballot measure Prop 200 won with some 60 percent of the vote—and 47 percent Hispanic support. And what that tells us for certain is that it's false that immigration control alienates Hispanics.
It's not unusual for the Open Borders lobby to be wrong in its facts, and now they're equally wrong in its interpretation of the facts (If they are facts).
Despite the silence on immigration in this year's campaign, there's every reason to think the issue is about to take wing.
Mr. Bush and his party ought to get on board now.
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Sam Francis [email him] is a nationally syndicated columnist. A selection of his columns, America Extinguished: Mass Immigration And The Disintegration Of American Culture, is now available from Americans For Immigration Control. Click here for Sam Francis' website. Click here to order his monograph, Ethnopolitics: Immigration, Race, and the American Political Future.