September 7, 2008

Party platforms' plans for border called weak

AUSTIN -- Neither Republicans nor Democrats have outlined an adequate strategy to deal with border security and immigration, Texas border leaders said last week.

"Neither one of them is taking a holistic approach," El Paso Mayor John Cook said.

At their national conventions in the past two weeks, both parties adopted platforms that describe their political philosophies and policy plans.

The Texas Border Coalition, a group of elected officials and business leaders, said that both platforms contain some good ideas but don't have what it takes to provide security and a fair immigration system.

"While we find a lot to admire, we also find both miss the point," said Coalition Chairman Chad Foster, who is also mayor of Eagle Pass.

The coalition has opposed the Bush administration's border fence plan, and has called for increased technology and personnel to help secure the border, along with reform of the immigration system.

The Republican plan supports more investment in resources for border agents and border security.

But, Foster said, it's too harsh in tone and doesn't advance a civil dialogue about immigration.

The Democrats' plans include more technology, infrastructure and people on the border and promise comprehensive immigration reform with a guest-worker program within a year of a new administration.




plan, though, doesn't mention the border fence.
"We are disappointed with the Democrats' silence on the border wall," Foster said said. "We disagree with the Republican call for completing the wall in haste."

Cook said the presidential candidates have largely treated the immigration issue as the elephant in the room.

Without more public debate on what to do with the approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country or how to provide workers U.S. employers need, Cook said, he worries that lawmakers will again leave the issue on the back burner.

"Congress has shown us time and time again they don't want to take that issue on, and it becomes a political football," he said.

El Paso County Attorney José Rodríguez, also a coalition member, said he has been disappointed that neither Republican presidential candidate John McCain nor Democratic candidate Barack Obama has emphasized immigration.

Debates over immigration and border security were among the driving factors in the 2006 midterm elections, but the economy and foreign policy are the hot-button issues in the current campaigns.

Immigration is too complicated and volatile a topic to take center stage in the presidential race as both candidates jockey for votes, said Irasema Coronado, a political science professor at the University of Texas at El Paso.

"It is a no-win situation for either candidate," she said.

Advocating a comprehensive immigration reform plan, she said, would alienate anti-immigrant voters.

Promoting a harsh immigration crackdown, she said, could worry employers and businessmen who need workers.

"As the campaign draws to an end, both candidates will try to stick to the middle on every issue," Coronado predicted.

But that doesn't mean a new president won't deal with immigration and border security issues once he takes office, she said.

Obama has said that, if elected, he would take up the issue in his first year.

If he wins, Coronado said, voters should expect some comprehensive immigration reform package that includes worker visas. Under McCain administration, the plan would likely include more get-tough security measures and deportation.

"This is all about doing your political calculus," Coronado said, "and you want right now to maximize votes."'

Brandi Grissom may be reached at; 512-479-6606.

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