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Meg Whitman's Immigration Snafu

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Can we get a fair program where people stand at the back of the line, they pay a fine, they do some things that would ultimately allow a path to legalization? ~ Meg Whitman on citizenship for illegal immigrants, October 2009

So, I don't think we should have blanket amnesty, and I am not for a path to citizenship. I have been very, very clear on that. ~ Meg Whitman on citizenship for illegal immigrants, August 2010

By flatly declaring herself against a path to citizenship as she did on the John & Ken radio show last week, Whitman has, we believe, undercut her chances -- slim as they might have been -- of winning a significant portion of Latino votes in November.

Instead, she has driven voters to Jerry Brown who, if not entirely consistent on immigration issues himself, clearly supports developing a process by which illegal immigrants can become U.S. citizens.

This is a big blunder on the part of the Whitman campaign - on par with their decision to oppose AB 32, California's pioneering climate change law, supported by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and iconic GOP figures like former Secretary of State George Shultz.

Together, these moves have hurt Whitman's ability to capture votes from two constituencies that could decide the election: independents and Latinos.

Calbuzz has explained several times our thinking about independents and the environment. See here, here and here, for example.

So now let's recap why opposing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants - a position Whitman took to shore up her standing with conservatives during the GOP primary fight with Steve Poizner -- is such a mistake by eMeg.

Since June 2007, the Public Policy Research Institute of California has asked this question:

If you had to choose, what do you think should happen to most illegal immigrants who have lived and worked in the United States for at least two years? They should be given a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status or they should be deported back to their native country.

Overall, among all adults, the responses have ranged from 69% to 74% in favor of a path to citizenship. Democrats have hovered at about 80%, independents at about 70% and even Republicans at about 50%.

But among Latinos, the response has consistently been about 90%. This is not even a question for Latinos. It's a core, baseline article of faith in the Hispanic community that illegal immigrants should not be deported but should, instead, be given an opportunity to become citizens.

eMeg has been on both sides of the issue, giving Working Families for California -- the pro-Brown labor-funded independent committee -- an opening to create a commercial accusing her of being "dos caras" -- two faced. She is, in their Spanish language TV spot, "sin verguenza" -- shameless.

Whitman's problem is that as good as she might appear to Latino voters on jobs, education and cutting bloated government, she is on the wrong side on a deeply-rooted issue that is fundamental among this population. In fact, she agreed on the John and Ken radio show the other day that illegal immigrants should have to leave the country and apply through legal channels before they can become citizens.

John & Ken: No illegal alien is going to get any citizenship unless they leave the country and apply through the process. Is that true?

Whitman: Yes.

How are you going to make them leave the country and come back through legal channels, Meg? Shove 'em, right? Unless her plan is to politely ask all the illegal immigrants to please, kindly go back home, we're talking deportation.

Bill Whalen, the very smart former speechwriter for Pete Wilson who is now at the Hoover Institution, doesn't believe Whitman has killed her chances with Latinos. First of all, he argues, "Every politician in America who opens their mouth and tries to speak lucidly about illegal immigration usually ends up creating problems for himself or herself."

That's true for Brown as well as Whitman, he believes, because illegal immigration is a Gordian Knot in American politics.

Moreover, he asks, "Is Jerry going to campaign on this?" Brown, he argues, has to be careful not to push too hard on the issue for fear of a backlash from voters who are not sympathetic to illegal immigrants.

But if PPIC's numbers over three years are correct, Brown has little to fear from California voters by advocating a process by which illegal immigrants can become citizens: that's a popular position. So why wouldn't Brown campaign -- among Latinos -- on the issue?

If Brown ever campaigns at all among Latinos. Or anyone else.

For another -- somewhat more partisan -- look at this issue, you can read what the Oracle of Cruickshank has to say about it over at Calitics.

BTW: Camp eMeg argues -- gamely but unconvincingly -- that when Whitman said she was for "a path to legalization" she never meant "citizenship." "She was talking about a temporary guest worker program," the volcanic eMeg spokeshuman Sarah Pompei told John Myers. "She supports a comprehensive solution that secures the borders first and includes a temporary guest worker program. What she said today is entirely consistent with what she has said before."

Consistent, indeed.

 

Follow Phil Trounstine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ptrounstine