Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Ford Talks About Immigration

On immigration, they don't think President Bush has provided enough leadership.

They don't buy his proposed "guest worker" program. They don't even cite Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's proposal as the way to go.

And these are the Republicans.

Leading GOP candidates for the U.S. Senate seat from Tennessee that Frist is vacating appear to be distancing themselves from top Republican leaders on the immigration issue as the Aug. 3 primary draws nearer.

The Republicans — former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker and former congressmen Ed Bryant of Jackson and Van Hilleary of Murfreesboro — agree on the basics: Border security needs beefing up; they don't support amnesty programs; and employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers should be punished.

For that matter, the main Democratic candidate, U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., D-Memphis, agrees on those points, too.

But there are small differences.

Hilleary is the only one who talks about authorizing local police to help enforce immigration laws.

Ford is the only one who talks about encouraging liberty and opportunity in other countries as one way to stop illegal border crossers.

And Ford and Corker say there might be good reasons for the government to issue some official tests and forms in languages other than English. Bryant and Hilleary don't.

But much of the time, the rivals even use some of the same language.

Both Hilleary and Bryant in speeches last week used the phrase "stop the bleeding" to talk about securing the border with Mexico. And both men said they would go as far as assigning soldiers to protect the border.

Corker and Hilleary both held up Israel as an example of a good model for border security.

Ford echoed the Republicans when he said, "I'm against amnesty."

All this Tennessee talk about illegal immigrants comes against a backdrop of immigration demonstrations across the country and last week's nationwide raid of the IFCO Systems manufacturing plants.

On Friday, Capitol Hill aides said Frist intended to seek Senate passage of broader immigration legislation by Memorial Day, which could include even more money for border protection. (Interviews with the candidates by The Tennessean took place before the new tactic on the Senate's immigration legislation was revealed.)

When members of the Tennessee Staffing Association heard last week from the Republican candidates, who spoke to the group separately, many of their questions were along these lines:

What do you think should be done? Wouldn't forcing undocumented workers to leave shut down farms and factories? Should U.S. citizenship tests be given in Spanish?

"The consensus of the group was, we heard a lot of the same things," said Kelly McCreight, vice president of The Hamilton-Ryker Co. in Nashville and a past president of the association, which consists of operators of temp-to-hire agencies and contract staffing firms.

None of the four candidates support amnesty. If that view prevails, it will mean some level of deportations.

However, the four candidates support various streamlined processes that would allow laborers to re-enter in a way that authorities could keep up with who and where they are.

Corker, who built a career in the construction industry and later in commercial real estate, said he was never confronted with the dilemma of needing to hire undocumented workers.

The commercial real estate company he owned — and sold in January — required statements from employers that the subcontractors and vendors they used did not use illegal immigrant labor, Corker said.

When he sold a construction company in 1990, Hispanic labor was not prevalent, he said.

"You fast-forward now to 2006 and go out to a job site today in construction — the backgrounds of workers are totally different," Corker said. •

Source: The Tennessean