Marxavi Angel Martinez came to America at the age of 3 with her parents. The family came to the U.S. on valid visas but stayed in America after establishing a good life for their family. Angel has never known a life outside of the United States.

August 25, 2008


Archives wasan effort to catalogue how and where the immigration issue played in the 2007 election cycle. In 2006, immigration was hotly debated in almost all of the competitive House and Senate races and even several gubernatorial races as well. In the end, the Republican Party (which in the main had been responsible for attack ads on the issue) was unable to use immigration to counter a rising Democratic tide, a tide that proved even stronger in the end than most pundits had anticipated. In 2007 and in the wake of Congress’ failure to address this issue, immigration continued to come up in races at the federal level (the Massachusetts 5 special election) and state legislative races, most notably in Virginia. The site provided real time analysis of how the issue played out and some perspective on lessons learned.

Presidential Race

Analyzing the White House Candidates’ Positions on Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Barack Obama
Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) was active in the comprehensive immigration debate in 2006, working on a bipartisan basis to try to improve key provisions of the legislation like the employment authorization verification system. He was part of the bipartisan group of Senators that met on a regular basis to plot strategy during what turned out to be a highly controversial legislative debate. In addition, Senator Obama co-authored citizenship legislation with Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), and despite spirited opposition has maintained his support for allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, a position he developed while serving in the Illinois State Senate. | More about Obama
Barack Obama
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) was once one of the leading Republicans challenging conservative lawmakers to support a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration solution. He worked closely with Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) to pass a comprehensive reform bill in the U.S. Senate in 2006. The bill passed 62-36 on May 25, with 39 Democrats and 23 Republicans voting in favor, but died when House Republicans decided to attack the bill and use illegal immigration as an electoral issue during the mid-term elections. Senator McCain’s role in the 2006 immigration debate was principled and controversial given the intense opposition from hardliners within his own party, who derided him for working with Senator Kennedy on a bill they labeled “amnesty.” | More about McCain

Presidential Race

Analyzing the White House Candidates’ Positions on Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Senator John McCain (R-AZ)

John McCain

Following is a summary of the candidate’s immigration position as listed on his web site.

McCain’s Position: “Secure” the border, then enact reform

According to McCain’s campaign web site, his current immigration proposal is a “two-step process.”  The first phase involves expanded border enforcement such as: funding for “resources on the ground,” training, technology, and U.S. attorneys in the border region; deployment of additional Unmanned Aerial Vehicles; and full implementation of the US-VISIT entry/exit tracking program.  After authorizing these additional resources, McCain would ask border state governors to certify that the border has been “secured.”    

Following the border governors’ certification, McCain’s campaign web site says he would implement the remaining pieces of comprehensive reform.  He would prioritize enforcement against “bad-actor” employers who “continue to hire illegal immigrants.”  He would implement “temporary worker programs” that “reflect the labor needs of the United States in both the high-tech and low skilled sectors while protecting the employment opportunities for US workers.”  McCain stresses the temporary nature of his new work visa program for lower-skilled non-citizens; while he supports increasing the number of permanent “green cards” for highly-skilled workers according to “employer and employee demand,” he would offer only a “limited number” for lower-skilled workers to “reflect the small number of workers that may wish to remain in the United States permanently.” 

As far as dealing with the current undocumented population, McCain’s campaign web site says that “America cannot permit a permanent category of individuals that do not have recognized status-a permanent second class.”  Under the McCain plan, “[a]ll undocumented individuals will be required to enroll in a program to resolve their status.”  They would have to undergo background checks, learn English, pay back taxes and fines, and pass a citizenship course.  No person who is legalized under the McCain program would be able to receive a green card before someone who had been “legally waiting outside the country.”

Finally, the McCain site confirms the Senator’s support for family reunification and “clearing out the backlog of individuals that are waiting legally outside of the country, some for up to 20 years, for their green card number to become available.”  

Presidential Race

Analyzing the White House Candidates’ Positions on Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)

Barack Obama

Following is a summary of the candidate’s immigration position as listed on his web site.

Obama’s Position: Comprehensive Reform in Year One

Senator Obama’s campaign web site lists five goals for immigration reform: “create secure borders; improve the immigration system; remove incentives to come illegally; bring people out of the shadows; and work with Mexico.”  The site highlights his support for sending extra personnel and resources to the border; fixing the “dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy”; increasing legal immigration in order to “keep families together and meet the demand for jobs that employers cannot fill”; cracking down on employers who break immigration laws; and helping promote economic development in Mexico “to decrease illegal immigration.”  Senator Obama would address the status of undocumented workers by “allowing undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens.” 

Senator Obama’s web site references the Bush Administration’s recent strategy of aggressive immigration raids at worksites across the country.  He calls these raids “ineffective” and says that they have “placed all the burdens of a broken system onto immigrant families.”

A fact sheet on the candidate’s web site expands on some of these principles. In his public comments at multiple events, Senator Obama has committed to making comprehensive immigration reform a priority in his first year in office.

Conventional “Wisdom” is Wrong Again: Latinos Overwhelmingly Favor Obama Over McCain

Conventional Wisdom is Wrong Again: Latinos Overwhelmingly Favor Obama over McCain; Immigration Reform Debate Could be Decisive

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In 2008, Latino voters will play a decisive role in choosing the next President of the United States.  The road to the White House passes through key battleground states with significant populations of Latino voters, such as Florida, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico. 

Conventional wisdom about the political alignment of these voters presents two questionable assumptions as indisputable “facts”: 1) Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) won the Latino vote in the Democratic primary over Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) because Obama has a “Latino problem”; and 2) Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has an “in” with Latino voters because of his role in the comprehensive immigration reform debate in Congress.  For example, a recent Christian Science Monitor article stated that “Obama may have his hardest sell, however, with Hispanic voters…  Obama’s trouble…could prove significant in the West, in places like New Mexico and Nevada that figure to be battleground states,” [Christian Science Monitor, June 24, 2008].  

As is often true with “facts” like these, a deeper look at the data turns conventional wisdom on its head.  The latest polls actually show Senator Obama beating Senator McCain handily among Latino voters.  If the high water mark for Latino support of a Republican Presidential candidate is the 40% President George W. Bush won in 2004 [Pew Hispanic Center, “Hispanics and the 2004 Election: Population, Electorate and Voters,” June 2005], McCain is actually losing altitude with Latinos.  

Latinos Overwhelmingly Favor Obama over McCain

As Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner pollsters Mark Feierstein and Ana Iparraguirre recently wrote on Huffington Post, “Obama is running well ahead of John McCain among Hispanics, and significantly better than John Kerry did against George Bush in 2004.  Obama’s leads in national polls are due to his strong advantage (about 35 points) among Latinos.  Take out Hispanics, and the race is effectively tied,” [Huffington Post, “Obama and Hispanics: Another Myth Exposed,” June 30, 2008]. 

A look at recent independent polls shows overwhelming Latino voter support for Obama over McCain:

  • Latinos favor Obama 59% to 29%.  “Obama has led McCain by about a 2-to-1 margin since Gallup began tracking general-election voting preferences in early March.  Hispanics of differing demographic backgrounds all tend to solidly support Obama.”  [Gallup, “Hispanic Voters Solidly Behind Obama,” July 2, 2008]
  • Latinos favor Obama 62% to 28%  [NBC/WSJ poll, June 11]
  • Obama bests McCain 60% to 23% among all Latino voters, and 63% to 24% among Latino likely voters.  [Latino Decisions poll conducted June 1 – 12, 2008]  State and regional breakdown of the Latino Decisions poll:
    • California, Obama leads among Latinos 66% to 20%
    • New York, Obama leads among Latinos 65% to 20%
    • Texas, Obama leads among Latinos 61% to 22%
    • Florida, Obama leads among Latinos 43% to 42%
    • Four southwestern “battleground” states, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada, Obama leads McCain among Latinos 57% to 31%
  • California Latino likely voters favor Obama over McCain 69% to 20%. [Public Policy Institute of California]
  • Latinos favor Obama 62% to 29% [Gallup poll, May 31]
  • Obama favored over McCain by Latinos 57% to 29%  [Reuters/Zogby poll, May 18]

Of the battleground states with sizable Latino voting populations, McCain is truly competitive with Obama among Hispanics only in Florida – a state in which George W. Bush won a majority of the Hispanic vote in 2004.

Even in the Arizona 2008 primary election, exit polls showed that 68% of all Latinos who voted cast their vote for a Democrat, and only 32% voted for a Republican [NDNBlog, June 13, 2008]. 

This enthusiasm gap is surprising, given the presence of the home-state Senator on the Republican ballot and the fact that Senator McCain received 74% of the Latino vote during his 2004 reelection to the Senate [CNN Exit Poll Data, November 2004].  Certainly, it does not bode well for Senator McCain’s prospects of capturing a large share of the Latino vote nationally and in his home state during the general election.

Latino Democratic Primary Voters Did Not “Reject” Obama

The myth about Senator Obama’s standing among Latino voters is based on false conclusions drawn from the Democratic primary, not an analysis of the dynamics surrounding the general election. 

“It’s no longer fair to say that Obama has a problem with Latino voters; McCain does.  This was a case of conventional wisdom that was never based on fact, just semi-informed speculation based on primary exit polling and bad stereotypes of Latinos.” [First Read, NBC News, June 17, 2008]

On Super Tuesday, Senator Hillary Clinton won Latino Democratic primary voters 63% to 35%, leading many to speculate that Senator Obama was unable to connect with Latino voters.  However, Senator Clinton’s performance was actually a reflection of her popularity among Latinos, not Senator Obama’s unpopularity.  Matt A. Barreto and Ricardo Ramírez, two leading experts on Latino politics, refuted this conventional wisdom in a recent A Los Angeles Times opinion piece:

“It is incorrect to equate Latino support for Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) in 2008 with anti-Obama or anti-black voting patterns.  In multiple national surveys and in our own polling among Latinos in Nevada and California, we find that the Clinton advantage is driven primarily by her eight years as first lady and seven years in the Senate.  By contrast, in April of last year, a national survey of Latino registered voters found that 35% had no opinion about Obama, compared with only 8% for Clinton.  Even as recently as mid-January, the Field Poll reported that 27% of Latinos in California had “no opinion” about Obama.  In short, while Obama has become well-known in a relatively short time among political observers, he did not rise to national prominence among Latinos until this campaign.” [Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2008] 

Put simply, Latino Democratic primary voters did not reject Obama but chose Clinton.  After Clinton withdrew from the race Latino support decisively moved to Obama despite the 57% of Latino Democratic primary voters who voted for Senator Clinton. “The Latino vote was not anti-Obama during the primaries, and that going into the general election, he has easily built a large lead among Latino voters.” [Latino Decision/Pacific Market Research, June 16, 2008]

Anti-Immigrant Politics Push Latinos Away From the GOP

As with most Americans, Latinos view the Republican Party as being on the “wrong side” of key issues such as immigration, health care, the war, and the economy.  In addition, the Republican Party’s embrace of harsh anti-immigrant campaign tactics and policies has clearly undermined its ability to attract and retain Latino voters. 

George W. Bush received approximately 40% support from Latinos in 2004.  This number could become the high-water mark of Latino support for a Republican presidential candidate unless the GOP undergoes a major realignment on their immigration stance.

Since 2004, Republican opposition to immigration reform legislation and support of harsh, anti-immigrant policies has pushed Latinos into the Democratic fold. 

  • Partisan Gap Grows: 57% of Hispanic registered voters “now call themselves Democrats or say they lean to the Democratic Party, while 23 percent align with the Republican Party-a 34 percentage point gap in partisan affiliation among Latinos.  In July, 2006, the same gap was just 21 percent.  In 1999, it had been 33 percent.”  [Pew Hispanic Center, Hispanics and the 2008 Election: A Swing Vote?, 12/6/07]
  • Nearly Half of Latino Voters Say Democrats Are More Supportive of Latinos than Republicans.  By a 44% to 8% margin, Latinos say the Democratic Party has more concern for them than the GOP  [Pew Hispanic Center, Hispanics and the 2008 Election: A Swing Vote?, 12/6/07]
  • Nearly Half of Latino Voters Believe Democrats Do a Better Job Handling Illegal Immigration.  By 41% to 14% margin, Latino voters say the Democrats are doing the better job of dealing with illegal immigration than the Republicans.  Approximately 26% say neither Party is better, nor 12% say they don’t know.  [Pew Hispanic Center, Hispanics and the 2008 Election: A Swing Vote?, 12/6/07]

McCain Squeezed Between His Immigration Record and Republican Party Politics

Although John McCain was once a champion of comprehensive immigration reform, his position on immigration has shifted under pressure from his own party.  After bruising public debates in Congress over immigration reform in 2006 and 2007 that divided the GOP, most Republicans embraced a policy of heavy enforcement and the deportation of undocumented immigrant workers already here.  Following the defeat of the 2007 immigration bill, McCain began a shift to the right in order to revive his flagging prospects in the battle for the Republican nomination by announcing a “border security first” position for the Republican primaries.

This attempt to appease the anti-immigrant base of the Republican Party has been greeted unfavorably by Latino voters.  As the Politico recently reported, John McCain “dismayed Latinos last year when he stepped back from his immigration bill that would have tightened the borders and legalized undocumented immigrants. As boos and hisses from angry Republican conservatives grew louder at campaign events, he switched course and vowed to ‘first’ secure the borders.  Were his failed bill to come up again, he would not vote for it, he said.” [Politico, “McCain’s Immigration Zigzag,” June 20, 2008] 

This stands in contrast to the view of most Democratic candidates, including Senator Obama, who generally embrace common-sense immigration reform that combines border security, a crackdown on illegal hiring and workplace exploitation, reforms to our legal immigration system, and the requirement that immigrants here illegally get legal by passing background checks, learning English, paying taxes, and getting to the back of the citizenship line.

In the general election campaign Senator McCain has begun to inch back to the center on immigration reform, arguing that border security should come first, followed by a “truly” temporary worker program, to be followed by fair treatment of all immigrant workers.  What is not clear is whether Senator McCain favors one bill with trigger mechanisms within it – an approach that could be termed comprehensive – or a set of three independent measures that start with enforcement first – an approach that is not comprehensive. 

The difference is not a minor one.  An enforcement-first approach composed of separate pieces of legislation would likely result in enforcement-only policies that would make a bad situation worse for immigrants, workers, local communities, and employers.  Instead of solving the problem, it would drive Illegal immigration further underground.  As a nation, we have tried enforcement first for 20 years, and it has resulted in the chaos of the dysfunctional status quo.  On the other hand, a comprehensive approach promises to replace illegal immigration with legal, controlled, and orderly immigration, which would result in the control the public rightly demands. 

As the campaign unfolds, we will be interested to see if Senator McCain returns to his previous and courageous embrace of comprehensive immigration reform or not.  If he does so, he risks the wrath of an anti-immigrant wing of the GOP that is estimated by experts at approximately 35% – 40% of the party’s voters.  Will they rebel and stay home if he clarifies his position in favor of comprehensive reform?  On the other hand, it might be worth the political risk.  Many believe that best policy and the best politics is for McCain to unequivocally support a comprehensive solution that would enable him to compete more effectively for much needed and currently lacking support among Latino voters in key states, and help lead his party out of the wilderness.  It could well be that McCain cannot win the Presidency unless he wins swing Latino voters in swing states.  And with immigration reform a defining issue for many Latino voters, especially Spanish-dominant Latino voters, the outcome of the immigration debate in the 2008 presidential election could prove decisive

August 24, 2008

Celinda Lake

/page/-/imm08splash/images/pic-lake-100.jpg Celinda is one of the Democratic Party’s leading political strategists, serving as tactician and senior advisor to the national party committees, dozens of Democratic incumbents and challengers at all levels of the electoral process.}

August 24, 2008

Simon Rosenberg

/page/-/imm08splash/images/pic-rosenberg-100.jpg Simon Rosenberg is President and Founder of NDN, a leading progressive think tank and advocacy organization.}

August 24, 2008

Pete Brodnitz

/page/-/imm08splash/images/pic-brodnitz-100.jpg Benenson Strategy Group is a nationally recognized strategic research and consulting firm. }

August 24, 2008

Frank Sharry

/page/-/imm08splash/images/pic-sharry-100.jpg Frank Sharry is currently starting up a new organization called America’s Voice. The mission of America’s Voice is to speak up for the majority of Americans that support broad immigration reform rooted in the American values of earned citizenship, the rule of law, and the promise of the American Dream.}