Commentary

Media Overreach on Kemp: Immigration and Affirmative Action

When reporters all agree on something, you know there’s a lot more to the story. Such is the case with Jack Kemp and his views on affirmative action and immigration.

In arguing his positions on those two issues, Kemp has warned his party not to appear mean-spirited, since that would turn off many Americans who otherwise might support a limited-government agenda. But since Bob Dole named Kemp as his running mate, reporters have turned those legitimate concerns into a running commentary on how Dole and Kemp are on opposite sides of the affirmative action and immigration debates. The record shows that that portrayal is not accurate.

It is true that Dole supports getting rid of affirmative action quotas and preferences, but so does Kemp. Kemp has favored replacing affirmative action with a pro-growth agenda similar to that advocated by Rep. J. C. Watts (R-Okla.). In a 1995 Washington Times article, cowritten with Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.), Kemp argued, “Affirmative action must be replaced with market-oriented, incentive-based empowerment strategies.” Kemp has recently come out in favor of the California Civil Rights Initiative, which would strike down government-mandated racial preferences in the state.

On illegal immigration, Kemp’s and William Bennett’s opposition to California’s Proposition 187 needs to be seen in the larger context of their vision of a party that attracts people of all backgrounds. They wrote, “We urge Republicans not to support an anti-immigration movement that we consider, in the long run, to be politically unwise and fundamentally at odds with the best tradition and spirit of our party.”

Neither Kemp nor Bennett supports welfare for legal or illegal immigrants. This year they wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “First and foremost, we should prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving welfare. For legal immigrants, we ought to both limit the classes of legal aliens eligible for government benefits and restrict the type of benefits they can obtain.” They argued that “the ultimate solution is to truly end welfare as we know it for native and foreign-born alike.”

Kemp and Bennett were right that parts of Proposition 187 would probably be ruled unconstitutional and that the measure would spill over to tarnish legal immigrants, as was demonstrated by congressional efforts this year to link legal and illegal immigration.

The controversial House measure to give the states the option of denying a public education to undocumented children has drawn opposition from Kemp and many others who fear kids would be kicked out of school. But a compromise, which grandfathers all existing illegal immigrant school children — allowing them to continue all the way through graduation — but gives the states the option of preventing new undocumented students from attending public schools, would at least overcome that objection.

“Birthright citizenship” is the other hot-button immigration issue in the Republican platform, which actually voices general support for legal immigration. The platform calls for a constitutional amendment to deny automatic citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants born in the United States. According to Vin Weber, national cochairman for the Dole campaign, even though it is in the platform, Dole does not support such a constitutional amendment. He is justifiably concerned that such an amendment risks creating a class of stateless children on American soil.

Kemp’s views on immigration are the same as those expressed by Ronald Reagan. This spring Bob Dole and three-quarters of Republican senators took a similar view when they voted against a proposal by Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) to reduce family immigration. Kemp and Reagan have both supported a reasonable level of legal immigration within our closely regulated system that limits lawful entry essentially to refugees, close family members and company-sponsored immigrants. Yet, like most Americans, both have supported measures to control illegal immigration that do not impinge on our civil liberties.

On the first night of the Republican convention, Colin Powell spoke of the values transmitted to him by his immigrant parents, and New York Senator Alfonse D’Amato described his hard-working father who could not speak English as a child yet grew up to live the American Dream. With tears in her eyes, Mexican-born Rosario Marin, a delegate from California, told a nationwide audience that she felt herself “very blessed to be an American.” But it was Nancy Reagan’s words about her husband that describe how Jack Kemp himself would like to be remembered some day at a future convention: as a man who appeals to our “best hopes, not our worst fears.” It is in this context that we should recognize the nuances of Jack Kemp’s stands on the controversial issues of the day.

Stuart Anderson is director of trade and immigration studies at the Cato Institute.