On the one issue that up until just two months ago was seen as being of intense interest to conservative voters -- border security -- most Republican congressional incumbents, especially in the House, actually have delivered in a big way. Most Democrats would take back that delivery. Intelligent Republican candidates would be wise to remind voters of these facts. And a documentary out last month, produced by conservative stalwart David Bossie of Citizens United, shows in stark relief why the issue is so important.
First, as for the movie: "Border War: The Battle Over Illegal Immigration," is a tour de force. It doesn't proselytize. It doesn't announce a political position. But it leaves no doubt how vexing, and at times how incredibly dangerous, is the issue of illegal immigration. Ranchers on the border have their property littered, their livestock attacked, and sometimes their safety threatened, by illegals crossing from Mexico. Police and other law-enforcement officials are attacked and in some cases killed. Drugs are run and teenage girls molested, and agitators yell that American land actually should belong to the Mexican people anyway. And, lest we forget, many of the illegals themselves, ones who themselves are peaceful but impoverished, are abused or abandoned en route by paid human-smugglers out to make a quick buck.
And conservative U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona is given lengthy opportunity to explain, with passion and plain-spoken eloquence (if that is not an oxymoron), why he supports " get-tough" policies against the illegals.
But the documentary (available through CitizensUnited.com or at retailers such as Wal-Mart, Blockbuster, Netflix and Amazon) also gives ample time, without the moviemakers doing any editorializing, to Enrique Morones, a man dedicated to the mission of caring for the illegals and who becomes increasingly activist in pushing for open borders. Filmed over the course of seven months, the documentary comes across as being scrupulously fair. Yet it's almost impossible to finish the movie thinking anything other than that the borders must be better patrolled and protected, and that the illegal access must be stopped -- because American lands and American citizenship must not be violated.
All that said, reasonable people can certainly disagree about what to do with the illegals already in the country, and about the comparative advantages and disadvantages, economically and culturally, to having a steady supply of low-wage workers. (I myself favor the Pence/Hutchison/Krieble plan that combines very tough enforcement with a free-market-driven approach to guest workers who have specific jobs and meet specific standards. Once enforcement is ensured, humanitarian and other concerns should be addressed, and the Pence plan does it well.) But the vast majority of the conservative intelligentsia and the conservative base consistently have insisted that no matter what approach is taken with illegals already here and with guest workers, the first thing that must be done is to seal the border. Border enforcement is the sine qua non for any further discussion of other reforms.
As all political observers know, the Senate originally passed a bill full of " reforms" for guest workers but notably weak on enforcement. President George W. Bush supported the Senate approach. Millions of immigrants demonstrated against tough measures against illegals. But the House stood firm for enforcement first. It wouldn't budge. And members of both chambers of Congress eventually got the message that, at least in the short term, the House position was overwhelmingly popular with more Americans, and certainly with more Americans who felt intensely about the issue, than was the Senate bill.
Against the cries of many Democrats, both the House and the Senate finally passed, and President Bush signed, a bill authorizing a strong system of fences along 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border. It was one example of a conservative promise made to conservatives that conservatives kept, in a way apparently favored by much of Middle America. As passionately as people felt about the issue all year long, it is an issue for which the promise-keeping incumbents ought to be rewarded at the polls on Election Day.
The reality of elections, however, often is that a deed once accomplished is promptly forgotten -- especially when the election itself occurs before the now-passed law can possibly be implemented, and thus occurs before the voters can see physical manifestation of the legislative success. Hence, the Republicans (and it was mostly Republicans who pushed for the border fence) who won the legislative victory seem to be seeing little reward for it in the snapshot public opinion polls. Suddenly, border security seems less of an issue.
It shouldn't be. The fact is that even though the fence is authorized, it still must be funded through annual Appropriations. If liberals take over Congress, the fence may never be built. For activists against illegal immigration, therefore, there ought to be plenty of reason to go to the polls and vote for the incumbents who did the activists' will and kept their promises. Obviously, part of those promises still remains to be kept -- and the more liberal party will never keep it.
In the last week of the campaigns across the country, the incumbents who pushed for the fence ought to use the illegal-immigration issue for all it is worth. The fence does not preclude further, humane, intelligent immigration reforms. But it should make the border less of a war zone. And that's something to brag about, and to campaign on.