How can we trust Washington to do the right thing on immigration?

The Baltimore Sun

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Former senator and probable Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson brought Virginia Republicans to their feet Saturday night in Richmond when he said the public no longer believes in politicians who promise to secure the U.S. border as part of a bipartisan immigration bill.

"You've got to secure the border first, before you do anything," Mr. Thompson said. "The members [of Congress] say it's right here in this bill: the border. The response is, 'We don't care what's on a piece of paper - secure the border. The piece of paper doesn't secure the border.'"

Mr. Thompson said the bill now being debated in the Senate is "the same deal" offered in the 1986 amnesty: legalization of aliens in exchange for border security. He said the public won't be fooled again.

When Mr. Thompson speaks of distrusting Washington politicians, he is including many Republicans, including President Bush, who in recent weeks - in company with members of his administration - have taken to labeling opponents of the bill xenophobes and nativists, even suggesting some are racists.

Among many reasons to distrust the immigration bill is the failure of the administration to convince the public that it would hold accountable people who break a new law, when they have been lax in enforcing existing laws.

In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal's Kimberley Strassel, the president again asserted there will be economic benefits to the country from permitting millions more foreigners to live among us.

Ms. Strassel writes, "Studies have shown that immigrants add some $10 billion annually in net economic output." That is misleading.

A new report by the Heritage Foundation says the American taxpayer pays for tens of billions of dollars in services and other benefits to households of low-skilled immigrants, many of them illegal.

Analysts Robert Rector and Christine Kim write that, on average, each of these 4.5 million households receives nearly $3 in taxpayer-funded services for every dollar it pays in taxes. They say that while low-skilled immigrants paid an average of $10,573 in taxes in fiscal 2004, they received nearly three times as much - $30,160 per household - in government benefits and services.

That might be tolerable if it were for a short and fixed term and illegal immigrants were required to learn English, receive a good education and improve their lot beyond manual labor. But the chances of illegal immigrants doing that are equal to politicians telling the truth about the immigration bill.

In the Journal interview, the president reveals what's really at the heart of the debate: politics. "If people think that a party is against somebody or some group of people, you'll pay a political price for it," Mr. Bush says. He then likens those opposed to the immigration bill to people who once opposed civil rights for blacks.

Democrats clearly believe illegals are potential recruits into their party. If Republicans fall for this crass appeal to import new voters, they will deservedly suffer electoral deportation from what remains of their power.

Already, contributions to the Republican Party by grass-roots donors have declined 40 percent, according to The Washington Times. They cite the immigration bill as their main reason for reduced donations.

Whose country is this? Does it belong to illegal immigrants and politicians, or to the citizens of the United States of America?

Cal Thomas' syndicated column appears Wednesdays in The Sun. His e-mail is

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