May 6, 2006


RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman Addresses State Chairmen’s Meeting (RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman delivered remarks at the 2006 Republican National Committee State Chairman’s Meeting, 5/04/06)

Republicans are the governing party in America today … and here to take on the big issues.

And immigration is one of those issues.

There has been a lot of rhetoric about immigration and border security over the last few months, but not enough communicating.

Too much talking, and not enough listening.

The result has been a hardening of positions, an attitude of ‘my way or the highway.’

But that doesn’t solve anything.

Another Republican President understood this well.

Ronald Reagan practiced what I call the politics of ‘and’.

Before President Reagan, some politicians counseled strength in response to the Soviets, while others called for peace.

Ronald Reagan was the leader who stood up and said we will have peace through strength.

When economists said we could control either inflation or unemployment, Ronald Reagan said we can do both … and he did it by cutting taxes and insisting on sound money.

When others said we can either be energy independent or dependent on foreign oil, Ronald Reagan said it was a false choice and deregulated the oil industry … and gas lines disappeared.

I believe that we still can, still must, practice the politics of ‘and.’

Which is why today, I want to speak to both sides of the immigration debate.

And I am here to say that they are both right … and they are both wrong.

And no good will happen until they come together to discuss the issue, not politicize it.

We will not have solutions until we come back to practicing the politics of ‘and.’

So let’s start at first principles: America is a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.

First, America is a nation of laws … and we are a nation at war.

Which means we must always protect ourselves from those who hate us for what we are.

On 9/11, the terrorists didn’t distinguished between fifth generation Americans and those like Milton Bustillo, a new husband and father who came here from Colombia … or Juan Ortega Campos, an immigrant from Mexico, who was saving to build a better life for his children … or Carlos DaCosta, a native of Portugal, who ‘was general manager of Building Services for the Port Authority’ and a father of two.

All were among the victims.

And in this new war, we must – must – control who enters our nation.

It’s not a trick, not scapegoating, not a dishonest means to a nefarious end.

Border security is a codeword for one thing: border security.

There are people, right now, today, who are examining our borders, looking for weaknesses.

They don’t want to come here to become American … they want to come here to destroy America.

And though they might number a mere handful among the millions of others who want to come here for the right reasons, we learned on 9/11 what a mere handful can do.

We will not let that happen again.

That is not the only reason we must control our borders.

One of the reasons America is the first universal nation – a nation united by ideas, not race, creed or place of origin – is because we are all held to account by a common rule of law.

As the Supreme Court says so eloquently, “equal justice under law.”

This simple concept has brought down the rich and powerful and provided justice and mercy to the weak and vulnerable.

And respect for this basic concept is critical to an America where we are all treated the same.

If the law applies to some people – those who waited on long lines to enter this nation according to the law, for instance – but not to others – those who enter illegally – then we are betraying the very concept that has allowed this nation of many to become one America.

Controlling illegal immigration is also an issue of fairness to American taxpayers.

Is it fair if people are using public services like schools and roads, but are not paying taxes?

Is it fair when people live outside the system?

No, it is not … and everyone pays in the end.

Indeed, far too often, illegal immigration’s real victims are the immigrants themselves, exploited by those who know that their legal protections cannot be enforced.

So that’s one side of the ‘and’ argument.

And here’s the other. America is a nation of immigrants.

In his farewell address to the nation, President Reagan called America a “shining city on the hill” with the doors “open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

What’s so powerful about the American Dream is that it has nothing to do with where you come from, what you look like, or how or if you pray.

The American Dream is about your destination, not your origins.

Unfortunately, throughout our history, there have always been Americans who believed that coming to these shores was a right reserved only for them and their ancestors, and for no others.

In an opinion survey in May 1938, fully 68 percent of the public opposed letting refugees from Germany and Austria enter the United States.

In 1924, Morris Sheppard, a Democrat Senator from Texas, said that the increasing rate of immigrants in American cities “all tends to show that the United States has become a Tower Of Babel.”

In 1905, Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge called for “more restrictive legislation” partially because of “the effect upon the quality of our citizenship caused by the rapid introduction of this vast and practically unrestricted immigration.”

Ladies and gentleman, that was wrong then … and it is wrong now.

Those who predicted then that America’s culture would be changed by those immigrants were right.

America always has and always will be changed by the immigrants who come to our shores: changed for the better.

America is safer because of the more than 12,000 soldiers who have been naturalized since the beginning of the War in Iraq.

We are wealthier and more productive because of an immigrant, Andrew Grove, whose computer chip technologies are moving our world at faster speeds.

Our culture is richer because of people like

· Architect Cesar Pelli, from Argentina;

· Fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, from the Dominican Republic;

· And baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew, from Panama.

Let me ask you this: as Republicans, we believe in a strong defense because freedom is not free.

Well, who shows a stronger commitment to freedom than those who leave everything and everyone to be part of our American democracy?

We believe our nation is strengthened by strong families, active faith, and vibrant communities.

Who better to strengthen our communities and fortify our institutions than those willing and anxious to put tar on roofs in 100-degree weather to provide food for children they love?

We believe our free enterprise system must constantly be infused with new energy and vitality.

Who better to strengthen capitalism than those whose who will work the extra hours for the dream of one day starting a small business?

These men and women aren’t just enriching America … they are America, and they always have been.

But today, just like a century ago, some people wonder “can they really be American? They look different. They act different. They eat different foods, and speak with a different accent.”

Well, what do you think they said about the Germans and the Irish and the Jews not too long ago?

When Americans go out to an Italian restaurant for dinner, do we think “we’re eating foreign food?”

When we celebrate St. Patrick’s day – and I’ve seen some impressive St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in this country – do we think “this is a foreign holiday?”

Of course not.

Today, St. Patrick’s Day is an American holiday, Italian restaurants serve some of the best American cuisine, and kosher hot dogs are sold wherever we enjoy the American pastime … because of assimilation.

On our nation’s great seal are the words E Pluribus Unum: out of many, one.

We have always absorbed people from many cultures, and it has always made our own unique American culture richer.

Assimilation has always been a quiet tide that has risen from our neighborhoods … from our towns … from our cities … as people from different backgrounds meet each other, marry each other, work together, pray together, live together and build a great nation together.

It’s what makes us different from Europe, where foreign workers are always thought of as foreign.

Assimilation means Americans welcome new people and learn from them …

And the newcomers, in turn, embrace what it means to be an American.

To become an American means we stand behind one flag.

Old Glory is not a white or black or brown or yellow flag. It is the flag of a universal nation.

To become an American means a commitment to learn English, the language of opportunity.

To those who say it doesn’t matter whether new immigrants learn English, I disagree.

It matters to those immigrants’ chances in life.

It matters to their children’s hopes and future.

It matters because our common language, accented and unaccented, learned from birth or studied last week, helps unite the American people.

To become an American means to learn about our history.

In learning about our nation’s past, these new Americans will help contribute to a better future.

Our Declaration of Independence speaks of the pursuit of happiness

That’s because being American is active, not passive -- pursuing economic opportunity, demanding social justice, building a better tomorrow.

If we want new Americans to be active citizens, isn’t a process that teaches them English and American history so they earn citizenship more likely to produce active Americans?


So let’s accept the ‘and’ premise:

We are a nation of immigrants.

And we are a nation of laws.

And together, we must practice the politics of ‘and,’ forging a new way, a solution that recognizes these two essential concepts.

Because if we give up on either one …

If we close ourselves off to the very lifeblood that gives our nation strength and vitality …

Or if we say ‘anything goes’, to heck with our laws and system of justice …

Then we have given up on America.

And this President, this Administration, and this Party will not let that happen.

I believe the answer is a comprehensive solution to this problem, one that embraces our history and our compassion, one which continues to welcome new immigrants … but one which also recognizes the rule of law and keeps our nation secure.

First, we must control our borders. We need more people, more technology, and more money at the border. There can be zero tolerance for illegal immigration, and porous borders.

Second, we need more interior enforcement. Last year, the President signed the Real ID Act into law to make sure our driver’s licenses and government issued IDs can’t be faked. We need to hold employers accountable for hiring illegal workers, and real IDs will make this enforcement possible.

Third, we need to ensure fairness to the millions of legal immigrants who entered America the right way, according to the law. It would be unfair for illegal immigrants to automatically become citizens, while those who followed the laws wait behind them in line.

And, finally, we must have a temporary worker program so we can meet our economic needs without encouraging illegal immigration.

Our problem today is one of supply and demand – demand for workers without the supply.

A guest worker program makes sure we can meet our economic demands through a legal supply.

If there are people willing to do jobs, and jobs that need to be done, we should be trying to bring those two together, not keep them apart.

We can do that by using the same methods and technologies we use to keep terrorists and drug runners from crossing our borders. If we can identify them, we can also identify carpenters and farmers and tech workers whose help we need.

Without a guest worker program, we will only continue to encourage more illegal immigration.

And while we’re talking about temporary workers, let’s make something very clear.

A temporary worker program is not the same thing as amnesty.

First, a guest worker program for workers in the future has nothing to do with the 12 million illegal immigrants now in the United States.

Second, even for the 12 million now here illegally, a guest worker program is not the same thing as amnesty.

Amnesty would mean letting illegal immigrants become citizens without penalty.

That’s what happened in 1986.

Leaders of our Party – including the President – who favor a guest worker program believe there should be a penalty.

Some have proposed forcing illegal immigrants to pay a fine or return to their nation or wait at the back of the line. Nearly all of the proposals require English to be learned.

Some plans would differentiate between those who have been here five years or less.

There are many points of view.

But insufficient penalties are not the same as no penalties at all.

So what should the consequences be?

Should they be fines? Back of the line? Return to your home before applying?

Something less severe? Something more severe?

And what about those who do come forward and agree to face the consequences?

In the American legal system, we have a long tradition that those who admit guilt often have a reduced penalty.

We do this to provide an incentive, so people who have violated the law will come forward, and law enforcement can focus its energies on the rest.

If we want to find the drug dealers, criminals and others who could threaten our communities among the 12 million, won’t authorities be able to better focus their efforts if most of these individuals voluntarily identify themselves?

One thing is certain: there will not be amnesty. There must be consequences for breaking the law.


These are all subjects for us to decide together, in a civil discussion as a nation.

This is a big issue.

It is a serious issue.

And we must treat it seriously.

To my Democrat friends, let me clarify: treating it seriously means not using it as an excuse for the same old partisan politics.

3.3 million Hispanics voted for George W. Bush two years ago, representing 44 percent of the Hispanic vote.

That is something our Party should be proud of.

And it is something the Democrat party is obviously terrified of.

Right here in Colorado, the President’s share of the Hispanic vote increased five percentage points from 2000 to 2004.

It increased nine points in Arizona … 12 points in New Mexico.

There’s something going on out here, away from Los Angeles and New York and Washington, D.C.: Hispanic populations are growing in rural states … states that Republicans do well in.

My friends, Hispanics are red staters.

And do you know why?

Because we agree on so many vital issues.

According to a recent national poll, Hispanics overwhelmingly support tax cuts to grow the economy and create jobs.

By a 20 percent margin, Hispanic voters would prefer private insurance over government-run programs.

And 57 percent of Hispanics identify themselves as pro-life.

Is it any wonder that when Hispanics learn what the Republican Party stands for, they pull the Republican lever in the voting booth?

We have the opportunity, right now, to reach out …

Not to pander …

But to make sure this growing community knows that on so many of the issues we all care about, we are on the same page.

And if we can do that … if we take advantage of this opportunity.

We will have an expanding voter base for generations to come.

The Democrats know this.

It is why they are attacking us on all fronts on the issue of immigration and border control.

There were 202 Democrats in the House of Representatives last year.

And 191 of them voted to make illegal immigrants felons.


So they could turn around and attack the Republicans, who are offering real solutions.

83 percent of Democrat insiders, according to a recent poll, believe that blocking immigration reform would be good for their Party.

But ‘good for your Party’ isn’t what we’re talking about here.

‘Good for your country’ is what we’re talking about.

I hope the Democrats can join with us.

I hope that, with enough people of good faith, we can cut through the rhetoric on both sides.

We can discuss and debate in a civil manner.

We can practice the politics of ‘and.’

We can find a solution that will do our nation and all of its people proud.

Thank you.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 6, 2006 12:02 AM

Didn't know Ken was a BroJudd reader.

Posted by: ghostcat at May 6, 2006 12:41 AM

Very good. Many steps in the right direction.

We all agree with the positions taken, as far as they go.

The difficulty is that Mehlmam says a lot of, ". . .on the one hand, on the other hand. . ." sort of things. You know what that sound like: "flip-flop, flip-flop."

Decisions are going to have to be made, and made quickly, before the vague principles we all agree with will mean anything.

Yeah, yeah, we're all immigrants of decended from immigrants, yeah, yeah, we're all compassionate and caring. Now what about line-jumping. He just doesn't say.

Nice words, but just that. The sides are still way too far apart, and we're still in a lot of trouble.

Posted by: Lou Gots at May 6, 2006 1:08 AM

Very good. Many steps in the right direction.

I need to borrow your line there, Lou.

The problem is as it's always been. The 12MM here now. When Mehlman gets to that dicey part the sentences end with question marks. There will not be 1/3 of the illegals come forward to take the gaff. The incentive of less punishment doesn't compute with transient entities entrenched as they are. The majority have little or no identity like hoods and gang members that have been apprehended umpteen times. They'll stay, more or less like they are now as long as they have a job. Industrial demands for cheap labor is the major stumbling block. They either need to be made a partner in reform or declared an enemy subjected to big, big fines and penalties.

Posted by: Tom Wall at May 6, 2006 3:09 AM


Bingo! The problem is the line. There can't be one.

Posted by: oj at May 6, 2006 8:03 AM

There will always be a line. We can't protect the borders without a line and we can't have security without borders

Posted by: sharon at May 6, 2006 12:48 PM

We can't have security and remain free.

Posted by: oj at May 6, 2006 1:48 PM

Didn't the English have security without borders for about a hundred years?

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at May 6, 2006 5:04 PM

Islands actually have real borders, but when did they ever have security?

Posted by: oj at May 6, 2006 5:14 PM

England was pretty secure until their failure of will after the Great War. They were secure everywhere their armies and navies could move freely, much like us today. If you have the force, you don't need a line, if you don't have the force, a line won't help.

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at May 6, 2006 6:25 PM