Looking For a Campaign Issue? Try Immigration

Idaho candidates and pols jump on the bandwagon


President Bush did his darndest to create something like middle ground in a speech to the nation on immigration Monday night, but what he really did was create one more platform for the 2006 elections.

The speech was a godsend to Republican Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vasquez. Since he declared his intent to run for the Republican nomination for Congress last year, Vasquez has been having a ball twisting every conceivable campaign issue into a harangue on illegal immigration, something he insists is tearing America apart.

"I am what my opponents refer to as a one-issue candidate," he proudly declared recently.

So when President Bush announced he would be increasing Border Patrols and sending the National Guard to watch the nation's southern border with Mexico, it sounded as if he was taking advice from Vasquez.

"I would prefer that my troops were home defending the borders of the United States," Vasquez told an audience at a campaign forum sponsored by the Idaho AARP. During the forum, his habit of turning every question into a rant on immigration prompted some snorts and chuckles from the audience.

But because Vasquez has also adamantly opposed any form of legalization for immigrants now working in the United States, that portion of Bush's speech--wherein the President advocated a measured form of amnesty for workers pending background checks--is unlikely to satisfy him.

Vasquez's chief opponent on the conservative end of the Republican ledger for the May 23 primary, State Rep. Bill Sali of Kuna, was likewise disappointed in Bush's moderate move.

"That is not enough," said Sali. "Six thousand is not enough to secure our borders, whether it is immigration officers or National Guard troops." Like Vasquez, he criticized Bush's attempt at allowing immigrants into the country legally as a veiled form of amnesty.

Idaho's Hispanic population, though certainly on the rise, is unlikely to make much stir over the recent hullabaloo.

The beginning of this month was supposed to be a display of the political power of migrants in America, but aside from larger marches in coastal cities, the impact of "May Day" marches was limited. In Boise, barely 70 people marched on Congressional offices in town, and the Idaho Community Action Network admitted to BW that it was counseling Idaho Hispanics not to walk off the job for fear they might lose it altogether.

Buying power of Hispanics alone is up to nearly five percent in 2005, compared with less than three percent in 1990, according to the Idaho Department of Commerce and Labor. More than 600 businesses are characterized as Hispanic-owned, with a 2002 payroll of $65 million.

As for undocumented Mexican immigrants, a Boise State researcher found that the number of undocumented Mexican immigrants in Idaho was about 40,000 at the low end in 2004 and 2005, up from a low estimate of about 20,000 in 1999. Using Census Bureau information, Boise State sociology professor Huei-Hsia Wu found that undocumented Mexican workers accounted for 5 percent of the entire Idaho labor force in 2004.

--Shea Andersen