KWAME HOLMAN: Last week, Bob Dole made it clear he'll make California, with its 54 electoral votes, a major battleground in the final weeks of the presidential campaign. As part of that strategy, Dole has focused on what may be California's most prominent political issue, immigration, and vigorously attacked President Clinton's record of dealing with it.
SEN. BOB DOLE: Whenever he has to choose between California taxpayers and the militant groups who demand public support for illegal aliens, he sides with the militant special interest groups--not you, the taxpayers. It is the duty of the federal government to guard the integrity of our nation's borders, and during the last four years, it has failed in that duty big time. Time after time after time the administration has failed.
KWAME HOLMAN: In recent years, the number of legal numbers to the United States has grown steadily, and it's estimated between three and four hundred thousand illegal immigrants, mostly from Mexico, will enter the country this year. In California alone this year, illegal immigrants will consume an estimated $2 billion in government services. Nationally, the figure is $4 billion. Opinion polls consistently show Americans are deeply concerned about legal and illegal immigration.
SENATOR LAUCH FAIRCLOTH (R-NC): There are ninety-seven yays and three nays. The bill is passed.
KWAME HOLMAN: This year after two years of trying, Congress addressed those concerns by passing sweeping immigration reform. The major draw for illegal immigrants is jobs, so the new law seeks not only to stop illegals from entering the country but to restrict their access to jobs and government services once they're here.
Specifically, the law will double the size of the Border Patrol to 10,000 over the next five years, stiffen penalties for those who falsify documents or smuggle aliens into the country, establish a pilot program to help employers electronically check the residency status of job seekers, raise the income level requirement on those wishing to sponsor legal immigrants, give political asylum seekers one year to apply, and make it easier to remove asylum seekers who hold false documents or no documents. Despite the new law, immigration remains a volatile issue in California.
GOV. PETE WILSON: Washington has lost control of our borders. But it is California that is paying the price.
KWAME HOLMAN: Two years ago, Republican Governor Pete Wilson pushed Proposition 187, which would deny public education to undocumented immigrant children. California voters passed the measure, but it is on hold pending a legal challenge. This year, California Republican Congressman Elton Gallegly tried to attach a similar education provision to the federal immigration bill. The so-called Gallegly amendment would have given any state the right to refuse public education to undocumented immigrant children.
But President Clinton threatened to veto the entire immigration bill if the Gallegly amendment was included. In a letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the President said, "let us move forward with illegal immigration enforcement legislation without this misguided measure." Republican leaders finally dropped the Gallegly amendment, but now Bob Dole has joined other Republicans in complaining the final immigration law contained too many compromises demanded by the White House.
SEN. BOB DOLE: Illegal immigration is a crime and a drain on scarce public resources. And the White House has done everything it could to blur the distinction between legal and illegal immigration by creating more loopholes for those who reach our borders unlawfully.
KWAME HOLMAN: President Clinton has steadfastly defended the new law and his record on immigration.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Immigration laws are national laws, not state laws. They have to be enforced. And the consequences of their enforcement or their failure to be enforced have to be borne primarily by the national government. I have done what I could to get more money into California in very difficult fiscal circumstances in Washington to help you deal with the cost of illegal immigration more than ever before and I will continue to work on that.
KWAME HOLMAN: The immigration issue may not be foremost in the minds of most voters, but it does resonate in the vote-rich states of Florida, New Jersey, Illinois, New York, and of course, California--so both candidates can be expected to focus on it in the final days of the campaign.