Just Dropped in to See What Condition My Condition is in
WASHINGTON — The Bush administration is vowing to carry out its unprecedented crackdown on undocumented immigrants for the remainder of the year — without regard to any political fallout during the presidential campaign.
In a sign of its resolve, agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, have detained 1,755 people in raids conducted in May alone.
Nearly 3,700 illegal immigrants have been arrested in dozens of business sweeps since October, immigration officials told the Houston Chronicle, far ahead of the previous year's pace.
Houston has seen the results of stepped-up enforcement as well. A total of 1,037 fugitive immigrants have been arrested by federal agents in the Houston area in the first seven months of the fiscal year — a monthly rate 44 percent higher than the previous year.
Identification of illegal immigrants held in prisons also has surged in the Houston area, with more than 5,000 located in the first four months of the current fiscal year — a rate 63 percent higher than a year earlier.
Julie Myers, who heads the immigration agency, said ICE personnel will press dramatic enforcement operations until the moment the Bush administration leaves office Jan. 20, 2009.
"We will continue enforcement of the law," she said. "What we try to do is to try to stay out of the (election-year) rhetoric and do our job and do it well."
But there are signs that high-profile raids on work sites, mounting deportations and SWAT-team-style arrests of fugitive immigrants that galvanize some pro-enforcement conservative voters also may alienate some Latino voters, potentially driving them toward likely Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.
Fear among HispanicsThe Bush administration remains "hell bent on moving ahead with this strategy no matter what the cost," said Cecilia Muñoz, a senior vice president at the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization. "This is for show."
Repeated immigration sweeps have prompted some 12th generation Mexican-Americans to carry their U.S. passports to prove their American citizenship, Muñoz said.
A backlash among Latinos could make it harder for presumptive Republican nominee John McCain to match George W. Bush's performance in the Hispanic community. Experts estimate that Bush received between 40 percent and 44 percent of the Latino vote in 2004. The latest nationwide Gallup Poll showed Latinos favoring Obama.
The potential shift in Hispanic support could tilt the results in battleground states such as Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado. An above-average performance by Bush among Hispanics helped him to carry those states in 2004 en route to a 51 percent to 48 percent victory over Democrat John Kerry.
The Bush administration has stepped up enforcement activities since last June when White House-backed legislation that would have blended enforcement with a pathway to U.S. citizenship failed in the Senate.
The most highly publicized raid led to the arrest of 389 suspected illegal workers at Agriprocessors Inc., in Postville, Iowa, on May 15. The surge in enforcement this year is well on the way to surpassing the 4,490 arrests at businesses for criminal and administrative violations in the last fiscal year.
A necessary stepDeportations are expected to exceed the 282,548 immigrants sent home last year as well. Prosecutions of illegal immigrants inside the nation's prisons also are on track to exceed the 164,000 prisoners identified as undocumented immigrants last year.
The administration's move has been hailed by leading supporters of an enforcement-only approach to immigration.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who has pressed plans for building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border in his San Diego congressional district, calls increased enforcement operations "an important and necessary step."
ICE's Myers makes it clear that the administration would prefer to include enforcement as part of a more comprehensive approach to immigration law reform rather than standing alone as a lightning rod for controversy.
"We are very disappointed that comprehensive immigration enforcement did not pass — very disappointed," Myers said. "But we are enforcing the law Congress had on the books."
McCain sees the enforcement effort as a necessary first step to win public support before enacting any sweeping overhaul, which would balance enforcement with a guest worker program and a path to citizenship.
Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton have voiced support for enforcing existing immigration laws as they press for a broader overhaul that has yet to come together.
Andy Hernandez, a former president of the Southwest Voter Registration Project and co-author of the Almanac of Latino Politics, said he suspects vigorous Bush administration enforcement operations are designed in part to give McCain a boost.
"If you have the Republican administration looking tough with all these raids, then people don't look at McCain's past support for reform," said Hernandez, who now runs the Wesley Center for Family and Neighborhood Development in Austin. "This offensive," he said, "is more about politics than anything else."
Duncan Hunter Endorses John McCain
WAMEGO — Despite some differences in political opinions, former presidential hopeful Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said he will support John McCain in the election.
The presidential election was among the topics when Hunter spoke Saturday at Kaw Valley State Bank in Wamego in support of former Rep. Jim Ryun's bid for the 2nd District Congressional seat.
The conservative Hunter, who has been a strong supporter for establishing a physical fence line to the country's southern border, initially endorsed Mike Huckabee but said he called McCain to give his endorsement after the Arizona senator secured the nomination.
"McCain has committed to the fence," Hunter said. "John will keep his word."
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