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Published: Sunday, 6/4/2006

Immigration reform has both DeWine, Brown in agreement

BY JIM TANKERSLEY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

As Washington prepares for another week of fire breathing over immigration reform, Mike DeWine and Sherrod Brown find themselves in a fairly odd place:

Agreement.

Short-term, narrowly focused, rhetoric-dented agreement that neither will exactly admit to, but still, agreement.

Mr. DeWine, a Republican senator from Cedarville up for re-election this fall, and Mr. Brown, a Democratic congressman from Avon challenging him, both back several core components of the immigration bill that is dividing Congress and expected to boil up in House debate again this week.

Mr. Brown and Mr. DeWine both say they support tightening border security, creating a "guest worker" program, and cracking down on companies that employ illegal immigrants. Mr. DeWine voted for a Senate bill that included all those provisions last month; shortly before its passage, Mr. Brown said "I like the general direction" of the bill.

That has not stopped each candidate's supporters from criticizing the other's immigration record, and it has not stopped Mr. Brown and Mr. DeWine from trying to redirect the immigration question - still a relatively small one in Ohio compared to other battlegrounds this year - to issues they consider electoral strengths.

Mr. Brown says no immigration reform is complete without revamping American trade policy, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he says hurts Mexican workers and drives them across the U.S. border.

"We'll keep doing this every five years until we fundamentally deal with these real problems of immigration," Mr. Brown said in a recent interview, adding: "There is so much pressure on our borders because of NAFTA's failures."

Mr. DeWine praises the border-patrol-beefing provisions of the Senate bill and says the guest worker program - pushed by President Bush and rejected by many House Republicans, who say it rewards immigrants who break the law - will allow the government to keep tabs on millions of people who otherwise would stay out of sight.

"Any (final) bill is going to have to demonstrate to the American people that we are serious about protecting our borders," Mr. DeWine said in an interview. "The American people look at this as an issue of national security."

Analysts see immigration as an issue that sparks internal divisions in both parties. But Democrats and Republicans have both tried to make it a partisan issue in hot Senate races around the country, including Ohio.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee criticized Mr. Brown last month for several votes, mostly from the mid-1990s, against increased border patrol funding. On the same day, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee accused Mr. DeWine of voting against an additional $1.6 billion in the last two years to secure ports and borders.

Mr. Brown used that figure to apply one of his standard attacks on Mr. DeWine - that he is a "rubber stamp" for the President - to immigration last month, claiming Mr. DeWine and Mr. Bush have consistently underfunded border security efforts.

Mr. DeWine rarely talks about Mr. Brown directly. Asked how he and Mr. Brown differ on immigration, the senator replied: "I haven't studied that. I don't know. I haven't studied his position."

Immigration has emerged as a hot issue in several closely watched races this fall, press reports suggest, including a U.S. Senate election in Arizona and the battle for a toss-up House seat in Southern California.

A recent poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found 10 percent of respondents ranked immigration as their top concern, a five-fold increase from November. It was the fourth-most concerning issue for voters in general and the No. 1 issue for Republicans.

"We're seeing sort of a growing, especially on the Republican side, a real growing concern," said Carroll Doherty, the Center's associate director.

John C. Green, the director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, said Ohio's relatively small population of undocumented immigrants - particularly Hispanics - helps keep the issue relatively cooler here.

"At the moment, I don't see much effect at all" on the DeWine-Brown race, Mr. Green said. "Ohio's not really impacted by immigration the same way that a lot of other states are."

Mr. Green said he expects the candidates to spend considerably more time highlighting their differences on trade, taxes, and foreign policy: "They have plenty of things to disagree on."

Contact Jim Tankersley at: jtankersley@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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