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This week’s Democratic National Convention represented a clean break from the old and discredited conventional wisdom that for Democrats, immigration is an issue best avoided when talking to general election audiences. Instead, and in contrast to last week’s Republican National Convention, Democrats embraced the new paradigm of immigration politics, one that recognizes that leaning into immigration reform works and that the President’s smart move to protect DREAM Act-eligible young people is reaping political benefits from voters across the nation, both Latino and non-Latino.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
This was a breakthrough week for the new politics of immigration. From the historic nature of inviting DREAM Act advocate Benita Veliz to share her story from the stage to the fact that the President, the Vice President, and the former President cited the DREAM documentation program in their remarks, this was a watershed moment for immigration politics and a wholesale rejection of the old conventional wisdom that for Democrats, immigration is too hot to handle in contests with hard-line Republicans.
Referencing the DREAM documentation program he announced in June, President Obama stated last night, “You’re the reason a young immigrant who grew up here and went to school here and pledged allegiance to our flag will no longer be deported from the only country she’s ever called home.”
Vice President Joe Biden highlighted the choice between President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney on immigration, stating, “Governor Romney believes — he believes that kids, kids like our ‘DREAMers’ — those immigrant children…those immigrant children who were brought to America’s shores through no fault of their own — he thinks they’re a drag on the American economy. President Obama believes that even though those ‘DREAMers,’ those kids, didn’t choose to come here, they have chosen to do right by America. And it’s time for us to do right by them.”
Former President Bill Clinton noted, “And if you think the President was right to open the doors of American opportunity to all those young immigrants brought here when they were young so they can serve in the military or go to college, you must vote for Barack Obama.”
Beyond these prominent executive branch leaders, speaker after speaker at the DNC discussed immigration and the stark differences between the two parties on the issue, especially when it comes to the DREAMer population. Leading immigration reform champion Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) summed up the consensus of this viewpoint, noting, “The future of over 1 million good people will be decided in this election. We can’t deny them. President Obama is protecting immigrants. Mitt Romney wants to send them back.”
DREAM Act sponsor and longtime champion Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) stated, “Eleven years ago, I authored the DREAM Act. It took President Obama to finally bring these kids out of the shadows and into the America they have always called home.”
Congressman Xavier Becerra (D-CA), the highest ranking Latino in Congress, said, “I’m not impressed by politicians who vow to veto the dream for immigrant children. That’s not the America my parents built.”
And San Antonio Mayor and DNC keynote speaker Julian Castro noted, “because he knows that we don’t have an ounce of talent to waste, the President took action to lift the shadow of deportation from a generation of young, law-abiding immigrants called DREAMers.”
In addition to the comments from the main stage, the consensus among pundits and strategists of both parties is that Romney and the Republicans have limited their overall path to victory this November by embracing hard-line immigration policies, while President Obama is in better shape with Latinos now than he was prior to his bold and sensible announcement to protect DREAMers.
There’s a new conventional wisdom that’s taking hold: taking bold action on immigration works for you, not against you. Opening the doors of opportunity to immigrants mobilizes Latino and other pro-immigrant voters, marginalizes anti-immigrant restrictionists and puts them on defense, and tells swing voters that you are willing to lead on this issue. Quite simply, watching Benita Veliz on the stage tell her personal story, it’s hard to imagine a political strategist from either party arguing that it’s good policy or smart politics to deny her the opportunity to participate in our democracy.