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WSJ: California Race Highlights Split On Immigration
California Race Highlights Split On Immigration

October 18, 2005; Page B1


Mr. Gilchrist is the co-founder of the controversial border-watch group called the Minuteman Project, which has caused a stir by sending citizen patrols to border areas with the goal of stopping illegal crossings. The group has been branded "vigilantes" by President Bush but embraced by some prominent Republicans, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Against that backdrop, Mr. Gilchrist this fall entered a special election in Orange County, Calif., to succeed Christopher Cox, the Republican congressman tapped to head the Securities and Exchange Commission. Though he had only a fraction of his chief rival's funding and carried the banner of a minor political group, the American Independent Party, Mr. Gilchrist's hard line on immigration resonated enough with voters to force Republican State Sen. John Campbell into a runoff in December. In a field of 17, Mr. Gilchrist got 15% of the vote on Oct. 6, compared with 46% for the millionaire car salesman.


Economic conservatives tend to favor a guest-worker program proposed by President Bush that ultimately would legalize many illegal immigrants. They also favor offering certain benefits to immigrants who lack green cards. Mr. Campbell, for one, supports issuing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants in California, as well as allowing high-school graduates who are illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. at a young age to pay in-state fees for college. Meanwhile, cultural conservatives vehemently oppose the Bush proposal, which they deem a veiled amnesty that will encourage more Latin Americans to enter the U.S. illegally. Earlier this month, 82 Republican members of Congress signed a letter to Mr. Bush indicating they would vote against the immigration reform he has proposed. But the only national Republican leader who has thus far openly endorsed Mr. Gilchrist is Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, who also has made illegal immigration his calling card. Many other Republicans agree with his views, says Mr. Gilchrist, but he adds that he prefers not to mention their names.

New public-opinion data, generated by the Republican polling firm Tarrance Group, indicate that Republican voters nationwide don't necessarily agree with a deportation- and enforcement-only immigration policy. Instead they favor solutions that will deal with both future immigrants and the millions of undocumented workers already here. The national poll of 800 likely Republican voters, released yesterday, found that only 16% want to stop the flow of illegal immigrants entirely. Nearly 80% would support an enforcement package that increases penalties for employers, registers workers and -- provided those workers pay taxes, learn English and stay on the right side of the law -- offers a path to eventual citizenship.


Write to Miriam Jordan at
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