Monday, June 07, 2004

The Salt Lake Tribune -- Migrant measure divides hopefuls

The Salt Lake Tribune -- Migrant measure divides hopefuls

MONDAY June 07, 2004
Migrant measure divides hopefuls

By Nicole Warburton
The Salt Lake Tribune

On paper, Utah Rep. Chris Cannon has all the advantages over former state legislator Matt Throckmorton: name recognition, money and the power of incumbency. But at the state Republican convention in May, Throckmorton proved that strengths can be turned into weaknesses -- narrowly forcing Cannon into a primary for his seat in the 3rd Congressional District.
What some say the challenger has on his side is a breakthrough issue -- immigration -- and a Cannon-sponsored bill that allows certain groups of undocumented farm laborers guest worker status and a chance to perhaps eventually earn U.S. citizenship.
But the question remains as to whether the immigration issue will resonate in the days leading up to the June 22 primary.
Kelly Patterson, chair of the political science department at Brigham Young University, says that Throckmorton has been successful at utilizing a "wedge issue" to force a primary and will continue to hammer away with it until election day.
"If you're going to get an incumbent into a primary you have to be able to capitalize on these very powerful issues," said Patterson. "Immigration is a very strong symbol -- a very strong point to which you can rally individuals who may be disgruntled within the party."
Cannon agreed, also blaming the fact that he's in a primary on the Republican convention system and a "negative ad campaign" that ran just prior to the convention.
A lot of outside groups have been "terrifically nasty," Cannon said, acknowledging in an interview that Throckmorton's push on immigration was "probably a factor in the thinking of delegates."
And while both candidates insist the race is about more than immigration -- education, internet taxation and government spending are all subjects they have addressed -- the immigration issue continues to be pushed to the forefront.
"People are very much ready for it to be dealt with," said Roy Beck, author and spokesman for the Coalition for the Future American Worker -- one of the organizations that has run ads opposing Cannon's immigration bill.
He referred to a recent article in The Washington Times about how immigration is playing a role in the primary elections of Republican incumbents across the nation.
"The level of challenge on this issue is unprecedented," Beck said about races in Utah, Arizona and North Carolina. "Usually immigration, if it comes up at all, is sort of a tertiary issue."
A recent poll by The Salt Lake Tribune showed that about 70 percent of Utahns are opposed to making it easier for undocumented immigrants to enter the country. One of Throckmorton's main arguments against Cannon's bill is that it does "in fact" make it easier in the long run for immigrants to illegally live and work in the U.S.
"If my biggest concern were the right here and now, I would support the amnesty bill," Throckmorton said. "In theory it solves the problem right now."
Instead, he argues that immigrants who come to the U.S. illegally can "realistically" receive the same benefits as those who come legally. Those who are already here receive no additional benefits by legally registering as "guest workers" under Cannon's bill.
"It enables and is an incentive" for illegal immigrants to come to the United States, said Throckmorton. "If you don't stop the inflow of illegal immigrants, what have you really done?"
But for Cannon, it's a matter of how you ask the question.
"Most Americans, by a large majority, want to see what I want to happen with immigration," he said. "There are many elements in how you control illegal immigration" that don't require sending illegal workers back to their home country to apply legally to enter the United States.
In writing the immigration bill, Cannon said that he and others did consider sending illegal immigrants back to their home country. "But it means less process control, less quality control than what we could do here in the U.S.," he said.
Cannon adds that it "takes a lot of faith" to create a federal police force capable of finding illegal workers and sending them back home. Besides, he claimed, "the only people who really want to hide in the shadows are criminals."
While state Democratic leaders won't publicly handicap the GOP race, party chairman Donald Dunn calls the contest "very negative" and says he is focusing on his own 3rd District candidate -- Beau Babka.
However, James Yapias, community activist and former chair of the Utah Hispanic Democrat Caucus, strongly opposes Throckmorton.
If elected, "Throckmorton will probably be detrimental to the Latino community and also to the community at large," said Yapias.
Yapias calls Throckmorton's plan to send illegal immigrants back home akin to putting a Berlin Wall around America's borders.
"You just can't do that," Yapias said, adding that Cannon's plan wasn't much better.
"We need to give benefits to those who have already applied for citizenship," he said.

© Copyright 2004, The Salt Lake Tribune.
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