WASHINGTON — THE politics of immigration pose some dangerous risks to the Republican Party in 1996, according to William Bennett and Jack Kemp, prominent Republicans who opposed California's recently approved ballot initiative to bar public services to illegal immigrants.
First, immigration is likely to be an important campaign issue, they say, especially since California Gov. Pete Wilson (R) recently indicated he would promote the anti-illegal immigrant initiative nationally. Second, the GOP split already apparent over the issue could grow sharper.
``If they want to carry this nationally,'' said Mr. Kemp in a press conference yesterday, ``... there will be a struggle.''
Both Kemp and Mr. Bennett support measures to secure US borders, cut document fraud, and otherwise crack down on illegal immigration. But they are wary of any deeper anti-immigrant sentiment lingering behind the California intiative.
``In the future, I think legal immigration will be the major issue,'' says Bennett. ``These are tricky and dangerous waters at the level of the culture and attitudes.''
Adds Kemp: ``The Republican Party has no chance of becoming a majority party in this century unless it becomes the party of immigrants....''
The public holds a somewhat distorted view of immigrants, Bennett notes. Although the rate of immigration has grown steadily since about 1930, according to census data, the number of new immigrants per American resident is a fraction of what it was between 1830 and 1930.