January 16, 2013

By Tim Carpenter

Anti-tax warrior Grover Norquist railed against politicians and pundits Wednesday who stick with an exclusionary anti-immigration view, comparing them to "stupid" people who would have never abandoned the flawed 55 mph speed limit.

He told state legislators and members of a pro-immigration business coalition in Topeka the prevailing national posture on the topic of undocumented workers was as poorly conceived as the widely disregarded highway limit imposed in the 1970s.

"We have a 55 mile per hour speed limit on immigration," said Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. "First, we have to arrest them and fine everybody who has been illegally driving in this country over the years. Then, and only then, will we have a conversation about changing the stupid speed limits."

Norquist said state and federal political officials should advocate for adoption of immigration law that matched the reality of demand for labor in rural areas for agriculture, as well as in the country's high-tech industries.

The sponsor of Norquist's appearance was the Kansas Business Coalition for Immigration Reform, which includes the Kansas Chamber, Kansas Livestock Association and Kansas Farm Bureau, as well as restaurant, construction and agriculture groups. The coalition supports adoption of a federal policy that would allow states to develop and manage programs to legally place immigrant laborers in difficult-to-hire occupations.

At the other end of the spectrum is Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and anti-immigrant lawyer who had a role in developing controversial law in Arizona and other states to make an aggressive stand against illegal immigration.

In an interview after his speech, Norquist said the topic of immigration had been exploited by talk-show blowhards and ambitious politicians eager to contort the issue for personal gain.

He included Kobach among the loud and prominent people who had a misguided perspective on immigration. The economics and politics of the issue eventually will silence this vocal minority, Norquist said.

"A bill passed in Arizona. It's not being helpful to their economy," he said. "Anti-immigrant rhetoric has sometimes been used as a signifier for 'I am the conservative,’ and stripping that out and removing that false flag of approval from the political scene is what I think will make the anti-immigrant rhetoric collapse," he said.

"At the end of the day, it's sort of like listening to a pond and thinking there must be a million bullfrogs out there and when they drain it, there are just three of them,” he said. “They are just very loud."

In a separate interview, Kobach said he was aware of Norquist's reputation as an expert on tax policy, but "he has very little expertise on immigration law and policy."

Kobach said the amnesty model endorsed by Norquist would cost the nation's taxpayers trillions of dollars in government benefits. That reality conflicts with Norquist's position for "protecting taxpayers," he said.

"I'm all for legal immigration. It's helpful to the economy. But illegal immigration is harmful to our economy and our country," Kobach said.

Kobach said polls indicated two-thirds of Americans support the Arizona system of addressing the influx of illegal immigrants. Those findings demonstrate Norquist's "pro-amnesty opinions and his anti-enforcement opinions are out of step with what most Americans think. Most Americans believe illegal is illegal."

Norquist said anti-immigrant sentiment was a vehicle relied upon by some conservatives to gain a following, but was the brainchild of "discredited left-wing" labor union leaders who don't appreciate implications of a free-market for labor."

"It's some foreign trojan horse that people keep trying to drag into the middle of Ronald Reagan's America. It doesn't belong there," he said.

He said it would be folly for Republican Party candidates to believe they could reasonably approach Hispanic voters to talk about common views on abortion, work ethic and faith while also declaring war on immigrants.

The conservative adviser portrayed such a conversation this way: "Now, while we talk, you won't mind if Egor here goes upstairs and grabs your aunt and drags her down the stairs and throws her across the border. You can't ask for somebody's vote while either insulting or threatening them and their neighbors."

Norquist said polling on immigration issues had been misinterpreted because not enough attention was paid to the difference between a preference on an issue and intensity of that feeling. Immigration isn't an issue that turns the tide in elections, he said, and Baptist, Catholic and Morman church leaders are more frequently pressing pro-immigrant messages.

Turning away from the nation's heritage as an immigrant nation is economic suicide, he said.

"We're way ahead of other countries in the ability to have immigrants come to the United States and become Americans very rapidly and contribute to growth of our economy both in big cities and in rural areas," he said. "It's one of the strengths that we have as a nation. If you have the right tax policy, but the wrong immigration policy, you can do great damage to a state's economy or the national economy."

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