Sanctuary Portland
Potter shapes Portland’s cultural realignment
By Mark Ellis

One of the testier moments in the Republican primary campaign came when Rudy Giuliani accused Mitt Romney of having a sanctuary mansion. Apparently some undocumented workers got past Romney’s gate.

Neither America’s Mayor nor Romney was able to stop the inevitability of John McCain’s party-boss decreed coronation, but we haven’t seen the last of the Gotcha Game on immigration. While there is consensus that the upcoming election will hinge primarily on “the economy, stupid” and Iraq, the immigrant influx remains front-burner hot. After the Democrats finish their gladiatorial primary, the two general election candidates will find it necessary to speak to the nuances of their positions, as Hillary Clinton attempted to do when asked about Good-Riddance Spitzer’s driver’s licenses for people here in the country illegally. Her sorry performance probably accurately reflects the kind of hemming, hawing and ambiguity that can be expected.

The issue comes home to roost in Portland as Mayor Tom Potter and city commissioners prepare to open a day labor center. The planned center will facilitate the hiring of individuals who congregate at downtown Southeast Sixth and Ankeny in hopes of picking up some temporary work in the construction and other manual-labor intensive industries. It is generally accepted that many, if not most, of these men are in the country illegally.

Potter’s position holds that illegal immigration is the feds’ problem to solve, and in the meantime Portland is going to implement policies that bring order and humane treatment to the situation. Opponents argue that any government expenditure for border jumpers is wrong and probably illegal. They compellingly point to unchecked immigration’s welldocumented ill-effects. Oklahoma and Arizona are becoming bellwether states for immigration policy, and they have taken federal matters into state hands. Draconian new anti-illegal immigration laws in these and other states provide a counterpoint to Mayor Potter’s continued commitment to sanctuary policies.

One problem for Republicans is that the growing Hispanic voting block may be turned off by initiatives that are perceived to be anti-immigration, or worse, anti-Hispanic. While a staunch Republican base calls for crackdowns, roundups, fences, and tamperproof IDs, moderates like McCain understand that losing the Hispanic vote to any significant degree could initiate a new Republican Ice Age, or perhaps even the end of the GOP that progressive pundits have prophesied wrongly so many times before. Analyst Dick Morris propounded as much with his quip that the Republicans “will run out of white people.”

But even with these electoral considerations in play, there is considerable immigration policy backlash within the party — enough to shut down Bush/McCain’s tepid and ill-defined Immigration Act, along with the Republican National Convention phone center for want of enough donations to keep the lights on.

McCain, an immigration dove turned supposed hawk, has rightfully referred to the undocumented as “God’s children.” Clinton, helped by the Hispanic bloc at every turn, has remained in contention. From that, voters can extrapolate her likely post-election immigration sympathies. Barrack Obama talks tough about border security while stagemanaging his pro-immigrant subtext in catch-all, disclose-nothing speeches. McCain offers vague assurances, Clinton stumbles, Obama waxes. Okalahoma dries up for anyone not legally entitled to be in the United States. And unless Judicial Watch or some other entity steps in to stop it, Potter will act to legitimize an undocumented economy. To the American people, who by a solid majority have voiced their desire for a solution that emphasizes border security first, a satisfying resolution on immigration seems elusive. Pat Buchanan’s bestseller, “State Of Emergency,” warns of American geographic balkanization directly tied to immigration’s demographic and cultural effects. Lacking decisive action from whoever occupies the Oval Office in January 2009, a dissimilar patchwork of immigration policies across the country is likely.

Much has been made about the party realignments implicit in the 2008 choice of commander-in-chief. But perhaps a larger historical force is in play: Profound realignments don’t only happen in political parties. They happen over continents, to civilizations, and to cultures and tribes. Though humankind can play a role in shaping how such vast realignments manifest, ultimately, like forces of nature, they cannot be prevented.

You probably won’t hear the candidates articulate it that way, but with regard to the mass migration of workers into the United States, an eventuality of that magnitude seems inescapable.

BrainstormNW - May 2008

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