Some of the most emotional issues in American politics these days are those surrounding immigration. They're so hot, many politicians avoid them because they're afraid to alienate anyone.
One who doesn't is U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican who is one of the nation's strongest advocates for tougher actions to crack down on illegal immigration. He's dismissed by his critics as some Colorado kook, a nativist politician whose attacks on illegals play on anti-Latino racism.
Think what you will of him, he's onto something. The tide of illegal immigration into the U.S. seems only to be growing, the problems surrounding it are getting worse and the country is unable to do anything about it. To make matters worse, there's a danger of terrorists slipping into the country through porous borders.
More and more voters are upset about it all, and this issue could be a huge one in the 2008 presidential election.
Tancredo is now promising to run for president if no other candidates come forward with plans to deal with these questions. He was in eastern Iowa last week appearing before Christian Coalition chapters to talk about the problems and convince conservative activists to start demanding answers from presidential candidates trekking through the state.
In an interview, he said he wants three things:
• "A secure border, including the application of military assets until the time when the border patrol can be brought up to speed on it."
• "Aggressively go after all employers who are illegally hiring people who are undocumented because (employers) are the demand side of the problem."
• "No amnesty of any kind, shape or variety."
Critics of these approaches say they are impractical. Ease in crossing the borders is necessary for commerce, it's impossible to eject the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, and some businesses rely on this cheap labor to survive. Many of these illegal immigrants are doing work the native population doesn't care to do and so they make a contribution to our economy.
Tancredo said people who believe all that "are out to lunch...Much of it is just baloney. It's stuff corporations will say because they want to hire cheaper labor."
He noted how Wal-Mart was slapped with fines and executives were threatened with jail after illegals were found working in some stores. "The public relations damage was considerable," Tancredo said. "They have now scrubbed every store in the nation so they can show anybody who comes in that everyone working there is a legal resident - not all citizens, but legal residents of this country.
"Guess what? Not a single store has closed. Amazingly, miraculously, they have been able to hire people and keep the place open," Tancredo said. The same thing could be done in other businesses employing undocumented workers.
He said of the 26 million people working in the service industries, 78 percent are citizens, 10 percent are legal aliens and 12 percent are not in the country legally. "It's not the end of civilization as we know it" to force out illegals and replace them with citizens or legal immigrants.
He said if there are industries that need guest workers, fine, but any guest worker program must assure the workers return to their native country after their labor here is completed.
"What you have to do immediately is secure the border, go after the employers and we will begin to dry up demand. People will leave and go home. They can get in line and come into this country legally either as an immigrant or as a guest worker," Tancredo said.
Candidates like Tancredo are unlikely to ever become president because such single-issue, protest candidacies are almost never able to generate the broad support needed to go the distance. He's the first to admit that.
But they can have a big impact on contests and force their issue to the forefront. (Think of how Ross Perot made the federal deficit an issue in 1992, or how Pat Robertson highlighted social issues in 1988.)
You can keep tabs on Tancredo's efforts at www.TeamAmericaPAC.org.