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Big immigration 

Who they are and what they want

The "poor, suffering immigrant" thing has been part of John Gay's shtick for a couple of years. The groups Gay leads have the whole country talking about illegal immigrants. And that's the point. If Americans spend their time debating whether immigrants should pay for the crime of entering this country illegally, they'll forget all about the business owners who hired them and the crimes they committed.

That's the marketing genius of Gay, the man who has virtually defined the immigration debate in America. Gay is the chair of the National Immigration Forum, the lead immigration lobbying group on the Hill. The NIF paints itself as "pro-immigrant rights" and its Web site is loaded with soppy talking points about the immigrants. Long-time immigrant rights activists work for NIF.

But make no mistake -- this isn't about helping the immigrants. It's about enriching Gay's big business buddies at the expense of the immigrants themselves and American taxpayers. The dozens of legitimate pro-immigration and pro-Hispanic activist groups who fall under the NIF umbrella are being used as Latino window dressing to add a touching civil rights flair to Big Business' grab for the next best thing to slave labor.

Unlike those who work for him at NIF, Gay is no Hispanic activist. He's actually the head lobbyist for the National Restaurant Association and the head of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, the immigration lobbying arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 3 million businesses, hundreds of industry organizations and thousands of chambers of commerce. The Chamber's board is stacked with executives from BellSouth, the National Restaurant Association, Verizon, Nike, Pepsi, Xerox, Dow Chemical. EWIC's members include more than 40 of the most powerful industry groups in America, groups like the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, which alone represents over 36,000 retail community pharmacies.

But EWIC and the Chamber are only one part of the centralized, highly organized immigration movement Gay and his bosses keep tightly under their thumbs. About six years ago, the EWIC/NIF crowd joined forces with a coalition of many of the former member organizations of the AFL-CIO, which together represent millions of workers and hope to capitalize on the new immigrant labor base. All these people have presented themselves as "separate interests" during the recent Senate immigration debate, but they are one and the same.

The sheer scope of the political machine that is Big Immigration dwarfs anything Washington has seen in decades. Big oil, big tobacco and the entire defense industry could unite behind an issue and they couldn't touch this.

Before Gay and his buddies at the Chamber got involved, no one on the Hill gave a rip about what Hispanic activist groups like La Raza had to say.

A May 16 Washington Post article called "Latino Groups Play Key Role on Hill; Virtual Veto Power in Immigration Debate" lays things out pretty succinctly. Now groups like La Raza and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund "suddenly are virtually being granted veto power" over immigration legislation, the Post reported. That's because NIF, EWIC and Gay are now at their side at the bargaining table.

For months, this "broad network of immigrant rights groups" held nightly conference calls and strategy sessions on the Senate immigration bill that failed two weeks ago, the Post says, and spoke daily with top aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other senate leaders.

If these groups had virtual veto power, you've got to wonder why, over a series of votes, much of the Senate -- including its most liberal members -- chose to virtually gut the temporary worker programs that would have allowed the immigrants these groups allegedly care so much for to skip the potentially deadly trip through the desert and come here legally.

The immigrant-obsessed public has of course forgotten that as recently as a year ago, instituting massive temporary worker programs that would let millions into the country each year to work legally was the whole point of immigration reform -- not "Z" visas that reward only those who are already here.

The temporary worker programs were supposed to stop illegal immigration. Yet somehow, with NIF and pro-immigration groups in charge, they shriveled.

I've long predicted that no matter what they claimed publicly, groups tied to big business would quietly choke off the temporary worker programs, because with them, there would be no more illegal immigrants to exploit, no illegal workers to drag down the market wages paid to the future "Z" visa class. Businesses would have to pay taxes on the temporary workers and actually conform to labor laws. And that's the last thing they want.

And pro-immigrant/Hispanic advocacy groups that hope to eventually legalize future illegal aliens and harvest their votes don't want the flow of immigrants to dry up either. They also have little use for legal temporary workers who can be easily tracked and returned home.

So for now, Gay's unholy alliance is a marriage of convenience. Where it will lead if no one pays attention is highly predictable.

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