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Younger Voters Support Immigration Reform, Reject Divisiveness

by Mahwish Khan on 04/07/2011 at 12:30pm

Immigration Reform NowOften, we’ve written about the importance of the Latino vote in American politics. The recent census numbers focused the attention of the political punditry on the growing power of Latinos in America.  And, we’ve been very clear that public opinion research shows that immigration is a key concern for that fastest-growing voting demographic.

But there’s another key demographic that shows increasing support for immigration reform. And it bodes well for the future, because, well, it is the future. Polling shows that support for immigration reform is increasing, particularly among younger Americans. Yes, younger Americans strongly support immigration reform and immigrants. The anti-immigrant wedge doesn’t work with them.

Tim Rutten from the Los Angeles Times looked at the numbers in a Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll and from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life:

The [LA Times/USC] survey found that nearly 60 percent of respondents younger than 45 felt immigrants are a benefit to California and 68 percent feel they should be able to keep their jobs. In other words, opinion on immigration may be shifting in much the same way that it has on same-sex marriage: Younger Americans no longer accept the orthodoxies that once made both questions such divisive wedge issues.

Last month, for example, a Washington Post/ABC poll found that 53 percent of Americans now believe that same-sex marriage should be legalized. Like many such surveys, a recent nonpartisan Pew Research Center poll found that approval is strongest among younger voters. Similarly, a study in September by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 51 percent of Americans under 30 believe that “immigrants work hard” and “are not a burden,” while 65 percent think they “strengthen society” and “don’t threaten American values.”

In other words, two once-powerful political wedges appear to be crumbling because Americans, who for most of their lives have lived and worked alongside openly gay and lesbian people and immigrants, have drawn conclusions from experience rather than fanciful rhetoric.

Makes sense to us.

Opponents of immigration reform use scare tactics and try to dehumanize immigrants. That’s a lot harder to do when people know, go to school with, work with and generally, just live among immigrants. That’s life in the United States for most younger people. This trendline is moving in the right direction.

But there’s a warning here for the GOP. The party is letting advocates of mass deportation, Representatives Lamar Smith (R-TX),  Elton Gallegly (R-CA), Steve King (R-IA), set its immigration strategy. They thrive on divisive wedge politics. But, following their lead is bound to alienate Latino voters — and young voters. There’s not much of a future without either.

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