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Michael Hiltzik: The issue that won't go away

April 20, 2010 |  3:19 pm

... immigration, of course.

With California being the state that gains the most from immigration (illegal and otherwise) and incurs the greatest costs, one would expect the level of discussion about the issue to demonstrate a high level of seriousness and clarity.

Did I say "seriousness and clarity"? I meant stupidity and demogoguery.

As my Wednesday column observes, as much as gubernatorial candidates Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner wish to position themselves as non-politicians or leaders cut from a different cloth, their squabble over who can best bash illegal immigrants shows them to be disappointingly average. Most disappointing is Whitman's descent into Pete Wilson/Arnold Schwarzenegger territory -- doesn't she have enough of a lead over her opponent in the GOP primary to stick to the principled stand she took in October?

Whitman is now advocating the sort of anti-immigrant policies that swear at common sense. The most ridiculous -- and the greatest threat to public safety -- is one denying California drivers licenses to undocumented residents. Now, I know a California license is a major draw for people from all over the world, but please tell me how it makes sense to have hundreds of thousands of unlicensed drivers all over our roads? Then there's her opposition to bilingual education, cast on her website in terms so jingoistic you feel you're being transported back to the 19th century.

The column begins below.

The great virtue of the last year’s hysterical debate over healthcare — possibly its only virtue — was that it shoved another hysteria-inducing issue to the back burner.

That issue is immigration. But now that healthcare reform is a reality, immigration has reemerged to slake our communal thirst for hallucinatory political discussion.

The two extremes of the immigration debate line up like this: One side says legalizing the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants will produce an economic boom — $1.5 trillion added to U.S. GDP over 10 years, says UCLA; $16 billion for California from legalizing undocumented adult Latinos alone, according to USC.

The other side maintains that illegal immigrants steal jobs from native-born Americans and contribute mightily to our huge state budget deficit. The cost of taxpayer-funded benefits for “illegals,” says Steve Poizner, who’s running for the GOP nomination for governor, has sent California over a cliff. (His latest TV commercial shows a car plunging into a ravine, which seems like a rather spendthrift way of making the point, for someone who’s all about economic responsibility.)

Read the whole column.

-- Michael Hiltzik