Washington — Donald Trump’s incendiary remarks turned up the spotlight on immigration recently, but the issue has loomed large in the political scene for some time and likely will persist as Trump and a cast of thousands seek the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
Trump suggested that rapists and other criminals were pouring across the Mexican border. Reaction from his Republican rivals has ranged from strong condemnation to a degree of approval. Gov. Bobby Jindal is somewhere in the middle, deploring the divisive implications of the comments while saying it’s not his job to police the Republican field.
To some extent, Trump has stolen Jindal’s fire as the most extreme candidate on immigration. Jindal has warned of radical Muslims colonizing the West and called for denying entry to foreigners who won’t learn English or embrace American values.
Immigration owes much of its political prominence to Democratic President Barack Obama and his executive orders aimed at decriminalizing certain undocumented immigrants. Opposition to those orders, and to anything that smacks of “amnesty” for illegal immigrants, is something of a litmus test for conservatives.
Jindal acknowledges some positive effects of immigration. He advocates “a high wall and a broad gate,” meaning a policy that throttles illegal immigration but allows more legal immigration, as opposed to the current low-wall, narrow-gate policy.
That reflects a more nuanced view than the “they’re taking jobs from Americans” position espoused in some right-wing circles. Another perspective on that concern comes from the Louisiana seafood processing industry.
It seems the industry can’t find enough citizens to fill jobs during seasonal periods of peak demand, even though Louisiana’s unemployment rate is among the highest in the nation. Crawfish, shrimp and oyster companies rely on guest workers, mostly from Mexico and Central America, who come to the U.S. on temporary, H-2B visas.
But those visas are limited to batches of 33,000 issued at six-month intervals. Most H-2B workers take jobs in other industries, such as forestry and landscaping, and the quota for the April allotment of visas was filled within a day, leaving seafood processors mostly out of luck.
Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, a Lafayette surgeon, has introduced legislation to reinstate a discontinued exemption to the quota for workers who previously received the visas and are returning to jobs with the same employer.
“Some businesses are being driven to bail prisoners out of local jails or even hire illegal immigrants, risking millions in federal fines, to fill gaps in their workforce,” Boustany said in a news release last month.
Boustany is vehemently opposed to Obama’s executive orders. Amnesty involves granting legal status to those who have entered the country illegally. By contrast, the guest workers arrive legally, and only a tiny fraction of them overstay their visas.
Scalise’s 2002 mistake resurfaces
Like a fire in a coal seam, the controversy over U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise and his 2002 speech (while a state representative) to white supremacists in Metairie flared up again last week.
Actually, the flaming wasn’t directly connected to the speech, in which Scalise addressed an audience that was in a hotel for a meeting of an organization founded by notorious neo-Nazi David Duke. Instead, presidential press secretary Josh Earnest referred to a quotation from Scalise reported in The Advocate in response to a blogger’s late December revelations of the speech.
“Right now, the Interior appropriations bill in the House is jammed up because a sizable number of House Republicans are eager to protect the status of the Confederate flag on National Park Service grounds,” Earnest said. “These are the same House Republicans who voted for a party leader who once described himself as, quote, ‘David Duke without the baggage.’ ”
That “party leader” would be Scalise, elected last year as majority whip by his fellow House Republicans. He has said the 2002 speech was a mistake. And he has supported the decision by South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds in the aftermath of a shooting, allegedly by a white supremacist, that killed nine black worshippers in a Charleston church.
Gregory Roberts is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and he is on Twitter, @GregRobertsDC. For more coverage of national government and politics, follow The Advocate Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.