Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein


September 2007

Is it possible that by this time next year, immigration will equal or even surpass the Iraq war as the number one issue in the 2008 elections?

Public opinion seems to be moving toward accepting the Bush administration's assertion that a complete pullout of American troops in the next year would be a disaster for Iraq and a major blow to U.S. influence around the world. Congressional leaders appear to moving toward a compromise with the president on a gradual withdrawal.

A report to Congress next week by General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are likely to persuade Congress not to abandon Iraq, as it did Vietnam in the 1970s. The White House instead will accept Senator Warner's wise counsel and withdraw a token number of troops, perhaps by Christmas. President Bush's statements in Iraq last week suggested this possibility.

However, the continuing flow of undocumented persons across our southern border and the millions of other illegals already here, is a burning issue for many communities. It will be an even larger one next year.

Virginia is an example of what is happening.

Recently, two northern Virginia counties, Loudoun and Prince William, passed laws restricting public services to residents who cannot verify their legal status. Meanwhile, Virginia's General Assembly is planning to take up legislation that would ban illegal residents from attending state-supported colleges and universities.

The Washington Post took issue (August 29) with the anti-immigrant actions of these Virginia counties by applauding a nearby town, Manassas Park, for refusing to impose similar restrictions. Its editorial, titled "In Manassas Park, Sanity," praised the town's "courageous stand" on undocumented workers and deplored the "nationwide rush to hound illegal immigrants by denying them public services and siccing the police on them in hopes of driving them away."

My recent visit to Colorado proved that Virginia is just one of many states facing a potential crisis on the immigration issue.

The Denver Post, in an August 13 editorial titled "Latino Majority Signals Sea Change," cited new census figures showing that Denver now has a majority of Hispanic" residents and called it "a watershed in the state's modern history." Although the paper explained that Latinos outnumber only the non-Hispanic white population, the number of Asian and black residents is a small minority in that city.

A trip to Greeley, Colorado, told a similar story. A large number of Mexican laborers moved to the city to work in its meat packing industry and on its farms. This raised the percentage of Hispanics living in the small community to one-third.

Last December agents of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency raided Swift & Company's meat packing plant in Greeley, as part of a nation-wide crackdown on the company's practice of employing undocumented laborers. Many workers were arrested and charged with forged documents and criminal impersonation.. Heightened national concern over illegal immigration results from the failure of Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Most Democrats support the measure, but many Republicans, reflecting the growing anger of their constituents, insist that existing laws must first be enforced before they will consider new legislation that provides a path to legal status for those illegals already in the country.

The Senate's failure to agree on a moderate immigration package in June caused the Bush administration, pressured by conservatives and many moderates, to intensify enforcement of a 1986 law that requires employers to verify their workers' legal status or face heavy fines. This is producing loud protests from business and farm groups who argue that they will suffer big losses if their undocumented employees are fired. They also predict higher food prices across the country.

The reality is that the growth of illegal immigration is affecting the daily lives of more Americans than does the continued fighting in Iraq. Yet, national television news and many newspapers carry daily reports on U.S. casualties in Iraq, but rarely run stories about the serious crimes committed in the United States by illegal residents.

During the next year, Congress will be forced grapple with both of these issues, the Iraq war and the immigration crisis, and try to reach a compromise that is acceptable to the White House. Is compromise likely?

My guess is that agreement is more likely on the Iraq issue than on the immigration mess, for this reason: the public seems inclined to wait a bit longer for the president to begin the drawdown of troops in Iraq; but less willing to wait longer for action on illegal immigration.

File last modified on Monday, 10-SEPTEMBER-2007 10:55 PM EST

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