CPAC: Conservatives Pandering—Aliens (Still) Coming

[See also previous CPAC coverage: 

The conservative movement is united in its opposition to Barack Obama. But the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference [CPAC], concluded last weekend, revealed a number of internal divisions that were widely commented on:

Needless to say, it's amusing to see the neoconservatives and Establishment Republicans get some heat from the grassroots. But the real scandal at CPAC that got really no attention: the decision by its managers once again to place pandering above addressing immigration control.

While primarily sponsored by the American Conservative Union, there are scores of other groups that pay to be co-sponsors.  Pro-English, Youth for Western Civilization, and the American Council for Immigration Reform were all sponsors.

There are two "official" CPAC rooms, with speeches simultaneously throughout the whole conference—with one a major ballroom, with others consigned to smaller area, a distinction that most attendees do not even realize. Additionally, groups can sponsor an event on their own in even smaller rooms.

CPAC almost always consigns immigration to a "debate" featuring a few people from opposed organizations in the smaller room. This year was no different.

The official panel was hosted by the Center for Immigration Studies' Mark Krikorian, who correctly noted that immigration was delegated to the "kids' table". The first speaker was Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach , who has helped craft and defend many of the important state level laws.

Kobach notes that the immigration debate is always framed with a false dilemma: mass amnesty or mass deportation. In contrast, he preferred to ratchet up the level of enforcement to alter the cost-benefit ratio—so that, in the case of illegal immigration, it meant "go home". Kobach pointed to Arizona as a successful test case, noting that SB 1070 was not the first attempt to crack down on illegal immigration, having been preceded by the Legal Arizona Workers Act to mandate E-verify, 287(g) agreements, an anti-human smuggling law, and Proposition 200 to limit welfare to illegals.

Kobach said the results were clear: census information shows a reduction in the illegal population. There was even comical evidence: the Mexican border state of Sonora sent a delegation of lawmakers to complain it could not handle the influx of their own citizens coming back South. [See Border States Feel Strain…In Mexico!, by Allan Wall.] Kobach gave pretty common sense suggestions to crack down on illegal immigration on a nationwide level:  

Next was Jayne Cannava from Pro-English. She spoke on the importance of immigrants learning English, but importantly noted that having too many non-English speakers makes it difficult to create an English culture—something that is lost on alleged English advocates like Linda Chavez.

The final speaker was Dino Teppara who served as Joe Wilson (R-SC)'s chief of staff and now heads something called the Indian American Conservative Council. I expected him to give the usual "conservative" Open Borders speech, but I was pleasantly surprised at many of his statements.

Teppara called the DREAM Act the "Nightmare Act", and said we should call a spade a spade and use the term "illegal aliens" instead of "undocumented immigrants", because the latter suggests they simply misplaced their green cards.

But Teppara talked a lot about the "backlog" of visas that needs to be cleaned up and (somewhat surprisingly) called for eliminating the diversity visa lottery to free up places. There's only one problem: there are millions of people in the backlog, and we only grant 50,000 diversity visas each year. My guess: Teppara is simply trying to throw immigration patriots some bones in the hopes that conservatives can be brought to support massive increases in overall legal immigration.

During the Q&A, Mark Krikorian took advantage of the moderator's privilege to bring up Birthright Citizenship.  Krikorian repeated a story Border Patrol agents in Arizona recently told him about a woman who literally broke her water as she was being lowered over the fence into America and gave birth to twins—who were, under the current interpretation of the 14th Amendment, American citizens. The long-suffering hospital recognized her and said she had given birth to triplets the year before—also American citizens of course.

In the past, Krikorian has notoriously shied away from addressing Birthright Citizenship. But here he qualified that, while it was not "the first thing" we need to address, it was an important issue.

No one dealt with legal immigration—other than Teppara's call for increasing it.

But another private immigration panel, "Will Immigration Kill the GOP", was hosted by Youth for Western Civilization. It featured YWC President Kevin DeAnna; former Congressmen Tom Tancredo and Virgil Goode; Team America's Bay Buchanan, the former US Treasurer; and newly elected Congressman Lou Barletta (R-PA.). This event was relegated to an even smaller room than the "kids' table". But CPAC attendees clearly wanted to hear the message and the room overflowed with attendees.

DeAnna moderated the panel and, significantly, spoke out against the notion that conservatives should have any "debate" on immigration. He emphasized that this immigration is an issue upon which conservative voters—as opposed to DC apparatchiks—are united.

Tom Tancredo spoke first. He commented that, while Hispanics tend to vote Democratic, if anything, they are more conservative on immigration issues than, well, DC apparatchiks. He noted that he does as well among Hispanics as do the GOP's usual pro-amnesty panderers.

Tancredo was followed by Bay Buchanan. She discussed her work with the anti-amnesty Team America PAC. She noted that pro-amnesty Republicans like John McCain, Chris Cannon, and Lindsay Graham sounded tellingly like Tom Tancredo whenever they are up for reelection. She said she really didn't care if immigration would destroy the Republican Party—the real problem is that it will destroy America.

Virgil Goode chided Republicans for their obsession with budget and economic issues while the country. And Goode repeatedly asserted that legal immigration needed to be dramatically reduced, in addition to a crackdown on illegal immigration.

Lou Barletta, who had House votes, showed up at the end of the panel. He noted that Hazleton, PA, where he served as mayor, and Pennsylvania's 11th Congressional District, are both heavily Democratic. But he won by standing tough against illegal immigration.

While this important message was forced into a small room, the CPAC managers had no problem giving top billing to the panel "Changing the Conversation: Winning with Minorities, Women and Independents" with Michael Barone, Human Events journalist John Gizzi, and new ACU chair Al Cardenas (more on him later.)

But, to his credit, John Gizzi cited Lou Barletta as a prime example as a politician who could successfully appeal to independent voters.

Another pro-pandering panel was entitled "Conservative Inclusion". It featured Suhail Khan, Teppara, Mario Lopez of the Hispanic Leadership Fund; and C. J, Jordan of the National Black Republican Leadership Council. At this panel, Jordan bragged about how she appealed to the Nation of Islam. When an audience member asked if that were appropriate, another Hispanic attendee (not a panel member) jumped in and bragged about how he always would appeal to La Raza and LULAC.

I will confess that I did not sit through the speeches of many of the bigger-name speakers at CPAC—Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Perry. I asked friends who did to tell me if the speakers mentioned immigration. All either completely ignored it, or just threw in a vague sentence about border security.

For the Keynote speaker, the CPAC managers chose African American freshman Congressman Allen West. I was talking to a former congressman when West walked by, trailed by a gaggle of supporters. The congressman joked "when I was first elected, no one offered me the keynote speech at CPAC"—seemingly genuinely unaware of the Beltway Right's Affirmative Action reflex.  

I say this not to fault West, who is a real conservative and has taken a strong position against mass immigration and racial preferences.

However, it is revealing of the Conservative Establishment mindset that they would elevate someone who has been a Congressman for less than a month to be the closing speaker. (For what it's worth, West did speak out forcefully against multiculturalism and called for increasing border security.)

This CPAC is the last with David Keene as president. Keene has been under pressure to resign ever since his attempt to get FedEx to give the ACU millions of dollars in exchange for its support in a regulatory battle with UPS. An embezzlement of $400,000 allegedly traceable to Keene's ex-wife may have been the last straw. Keene is expected to become head of the National Rifle Association now that he has left, so it is conceivable that his departure was voluntary.

But, whatever the case, I am glad to see David Keene—who was duplicitous on the issue of immigration—gone. But I do not harbor high hopes for his replacement, Al Cardenas. I could not find many direct statements on immigration by Cardenas, who is himself a Cuban immigrant. But he was quoted in the Miami Herald [Hispanics urge Rick Scott: Reduce immigration issue emphasis, September 1, 2010]  last year complaining that both Republican Gubernatorial candidates Rick Scott and Bill McCollum's pro-SB 1070 stance were  hurting the party with Hispanic voters.

During his panel, Youth for Western Civilization's Kevin DeAnna said that, if conservatives lose the immigration debate, they've lost everything.

If conservatives do not tackle immigration head on, then their squabbling over gay marriage or foreign policy will be like playing cards on a sinking ship.

"Washington Watcher" [email him] is an anonymous source Inside The Beltway.