Last week, the American Conservative Union held its annual conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C., offering three days of speeches from Conservative pundits, Members of Congress, and, of course, the GOP Presidential Hopefuls (minus Ron Paul). CPAC organizers are staunch supporters of free markets with leanings toward open-border policies and a more generous guest worker program. But the more than 10,000 attendees at this year's annual conference showed a preference for lower legal immigration levels and tough immigration enforcement.
While immigration was mentioned throughout the three-day conference, it was the actual immigration panel in the main ballroom on Saturday morning that revealed most how the CPAC attendees feel about the issue. The panel pitted Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach against the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Policy Analyst Alex Nowrasteh. Nowrasteh is a Libertarian, open-borders supporter who can often be found Tweeting at NumbersUSA. His opening remarks took more than 7 minutes as he blasted the fed's over-bearing immigration regulations and criticized policy that places the government between employers and the employees they want to hire. When Nowrasteh wrapped up his opening remarks the boos from the CPAC crowd prompted the panel's moderator to ask the audience to be "respectful" of the panelists.
Sec. Kobach opened his remarks by discussing his role in Arizona's immigration enforcement law, earning him enthusiastic applause from the audience. He then said…
In his remarks, Alex posed a rhetorical question which wasn't supposed to be answered, but I'm going to go ahead and answer it. He said, 'why should the government get between an employer and an employee from another country.' Two reasons -- No. 1 there are 13 million Americans looking for jobs right now and No. 2 at any given time there are approximately 5 million aliens who are lawfully trying to come to the United States.
Kobach's comments garnered more applause from the audience, but it was after all, an immigration panel. But even in the non-immigration related panels and speeches, the audience sided with speakers who favored tougher enforcement.
The most prominent figure to bring up the issue was GOP Presidential Hopeful Newt Gingrich. Gingrich has come under fire from groups across the political spectrum for his plan to provide amnesty to illegal aliens who have been in the country for at least 20 years. He stayed away from that, or any other specific part of his plan, but he did use the inability of past Administrations to deal with illegal immigration as an example of how Washington is "broken".
How many of you have ever gone online to check a package at UPS or FedEx?
I want to drive this home. This is not a theory. It is a practical reality that we have the technology that enables us to track between UPS and FedEx – we track 24 million packages a day, while they are moving, and we allow you to find out where they are for free. That’s the world that works.
Now here’s the world that fails: the federal government today cannot find 11 million illegal immigrants, even if they are sitting still. Now I have a simple proposal. We send a package to everyone who is here illegally. When they open it, we pull it up on the computer. We know where they are.
The anecdote from Gingrich earned him one of the few standing ovations from the CPAC crowd during his 20 minutes at the podium. Of course, Gingrich didn't discuss how he'd deal with the 11 million illegal aliens once he identified them, and I would be remiss for not mentioning that Gingrich was a major part of the Washington that he called "broken" (he was Speaker of the House when the Barbara Jordan Commission presented its recommendations in the mid-1990s). Still, Gingrich was looking for a way to distinguish himself from the other GOP Hopefuls, Pres. Obama, and the current Congress, and an example about illegal immigration is what he thought would get the best response from the CPAC crowd.
Former GOP Presidential Hopefuls Rick Perry and Herman Cain also brought up the immigration issue during their time in the main ballroom. Gov. Perry said that the federal government only has three responsibilities and one is to secure the border, which he said they fail to do. Herman Cain began his speech by listing six crises that currently exist in the United States; crisis No. 3 was illegal immigration.
During a few of the other panels, immigration was mentioned, and in every case, the immigration enforcement comments received support from the audience. Jay Sekulow, who serves as the Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, called out the Obama Administration for suing states that try to protect its citizens by passing immigration enforcement laws and said that his organization had filed briefs with the Supreme Court on behalf of Arizona.
Then, during a panel discussion on defense spending, former U.S. Congressman Asa Hutchinson mentioned U.S. VISIT.
We have not developed an exit strategy. We have no capability of knowing when someone leaves the country or if they are overstaying their visit.
Finally, in what was dubbed as the "All-Star Panel", San Diego-based syndicated talk show host Roger Hedgecock discussed how California was rolling out the red carpet for illegal aliens. Part of the discussion revolved around the ongoing debate about the Administration's policy on contraceptives and health care.
In California, the question isn't should we give out free contraceptives, the question is should we give it to every illegal alien and everyone in the world who wants to come here and all their progeny and then all the free education on top of that. And now the welfare department in California is giving free refrigerators to illegal aliens who don't have them."
-- Roger Hedgecock, CPAC, February 10, 2012
Year after year, CPAC has done all it can to keep those of us who favor lower immigration levels and increased enforcement at bay. Last year, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Sec. Kobach were denied an audience in the main ballroom and instead were given time in a smaller setting. Former Congressman Tom Tancredo, who was responsible for starting the Immigration Reform Caucus in Congress, was relegated to a room that was maybe a little bigger than a standard hotel room.
While the immigration issue was given time in the main ballroom this year (albeit first thing on Saturday morning), the organizers had the panel moderated by the national spokesperson for a group that urged Pres. Obama to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2009. However, judging by the audience's responses, maybe CPAC organizers should rethink its own position on the issue.
CHRIS CHMIELENSKI is the Director of Content & Activism for NumbersUSA