Pundits and analysts predict that the Republican embrace of extremist immigration politics will turn out to be a mistake of historic proportions.
“I am worried. You cannot ignore the aspirations of the fastest-growing minority in America” [Karl Rove aboard Air Force One on 8/13/07].
“For the past few cycles, Republicans have relied heavily on illegal immigration a wedge issue aimed at driving their base to the polls. In many regions of the country, though, it has been an issue that has caused more harm than good: Business advocates recognize they need immigrant labor to drive the economy, and Hispanic voters are turning away from the GOP due to what many feel is overly harsh rhetoric. Few, in fact, can point to a race in which a Republican candidate seriously benefited from focusing on immigration” [Reid Wilson, RealClearPolitics.com, 6/17/08].
“It is fair to say that the fallout of the immigration debate has damaged the Republican Party among many Hispanic voters.” [Charlie Cook, 6/17/08].
“I have never seen an issue where the short-term interests of Republican presidential candidates in the primaries were more starkly at odds with the long-term interests of the party itself. At least five swing states that Bush carried in 2004 are rich in Hispanic voters – Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado and Florida. Bush won Nevada by just over 20,000 votes. A substantial shift of Hispanic voters toward the Democrats in these states could make the national political map unwinnable for Republicans…Some in the party seem pleased. They should be terrified,” [Michael Gerson, Washington Post, 9/19/07].
Analyzing the White House Candidates’ Positions on Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Analyzing the White House Candidates’ Positions on Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Senator John McCain (R-AZ)
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.”
Analyzing the White House Candidates’ Positions on Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)
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
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
A Nation of Immigrants and a Nation of Laws
America’s Voice was created in 2008 to harness the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform. It grew out of the pro-immigrant reform movement that built a broad bipartisan coalition over the last several years around a legislative package that would reduce illegal immigration, legalize the status of workers already in the U.S., reunite families, allow needed workers to enter legally rather than illegally, and restore the rule of law. In fact, in June of 2006, a comprehensive immigration reform bill was approved by a 62-36 margin in the U.S. Senate, only to be derailed by House Republicans determined to use illegal immigration as a political wedge issue-unsuccessfully, as it turned out-in the 2006 mid-term elections.
Comprehensive reform has the support of Main Street America. In poll after poll a strong majority of Americans support a comprehensive overhaul that includes legal status and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. In addition, a growing chorus of state and local elected officials, business owners, labor unions, faith-based organizations, and civil rights groups support comprehensive reform. Nevertheless, rabid opponents have exploited fear of the “other” to mobilize a small but vocal group to block progress on this important issue facing America. Standing in the way, they offer no practical “solutions” of their own. They do call for the deportation of 12 million immigrants and their families, and a massive border wall along our southern border, at the cost of billions of dollars and with no likelihood of success.
What comprehensive reformers understand-and our opposition does not-is that America can be both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws; indeed, we have to be both. Our country is at its best when it takes in new people with new ideas and encourages them to become new Americans. This combination of welcoming and integrating has helped to re-energize our nation throughout our history.
The challenge now is that our immigration system is out of date and out of step with labor market realities and the desire of immigrants to live with loved ones in the United States. Our failure to update our immigration system has left us with a growing population of undocumented workers, and no strategy to integrate them into America. We have thrown enormous taxpayer resources at “securing” the border, and have no real results to show for it. American citizens and legal permanent residents face years of separation from loved ones because our immigration channels are so broken. And millions of workers operate in the shadow economy, afraid to report exploitation by employers because doing so could lead to their deportation. It is time to get our nation’s immigration policy back on track.
Our prescription for reform is to deal with the byproducts of our broken immigration system-the 12 million undocumented immigrants living and working in this country-while simultaneously updating our immigration laws to prevent a future build-up of undocumented immigrants. Our reform agenda combines the following:
- Smart and professional border enforcement;
- A crackdown on employers who hire undocumented workers to exploit them;
- A controlled increase in legal visas for the future flow of needed workers and close family members;
- An earned citizenship program that requires those here illegally to get on the right side of the law by passing background checks, studying English, paying taxes, and getting to the back of the citizenship line; and
- Efforts to reduce migration pressures in sending countries over time.
Once implemented, a workable reform law would dramatically reduce current and future unauthorized immigration, restore the benefits of legal immigration, secure the border, and level the playing field for law-abiding employers and all workers in the United States. It would replace a chaotic black market with a properly regulated legal immigration system and a significant reduction in illegal immigration.
Imagine the difference when those thinking of coming to the United States illegally know that it is difficult to cross the border; if you make it past the border, it is almost impossible to get a job if you do not have proper papers; the only jobs for illegal workers with no papers are with the bad employers who are being cracked down on consistently by federal authorities; there is now a line to get into to apply for visas for full-time work with full labor rights; and if you wait your turn, you can enter the U.S. on an airplane, with papers, and with labor rights, rather than risk your life crossing the desert only to face constant fear and routine exploitation. Add to this the fact that those already here are able to get on the right side of the law and on a path to citizenship, and you have the beginning of system that transforms the illegality of the archaic status quo into a regulatory regime that effectively controls immigration flows, protects both American and immigrant workers, ensures full tax compliance by workers and employers alike, and restores the rule of law both to our borders and our workplaces.
These are the goals of America’s Voice, and the goals of American voices who are demanding real reform. It is time for these voices to be heard.
During the last few election cycles, most pundits, reporters, and talking heads have asserted that immigration is the new “third rail” in American politics. They said it had become the new wedge issue for conservatives to use against moderates to help them gain an edge. But as is often true with so-called “conventional wisdom,” these arguments actually have more in common with fiction than fact.
Immigration08.com was set up to provide a reasoned counterpoint to the simple assertions of mainstream thinking on immigration, and challenge conventional wisdom when it is wrong. Starting with the election of 2006, a group of polling experts and political strategists began to track bellwether races where the issue of immigration was playing an important role. Their goal was to take an honest and thorough look at the immigration wedge strategy and evaluate how it worked (or did not) in the hottest Congressional and gubernatorial races.
Frank Sharry, Simon Rosenberg, and pollsters such as Celinda Lake and David Mermin of Lake Research Partners and Pete Brodnitz of Benenson Strategy Group used empirical research rather than assumptions to drive analysis of the immigration wedge strategy. Their work in 2006 showed that immigration almost never works to put conservatives over the top, and that candidates who embrace comprehensive immigration reform are not only holding even, but actually surging ahead in some areas because they take a practical approach to addressing the problem of undocumented immigration.
The same was true in 2007 and is shaping up that way again in 2008. Recalling the presidential primaries of just last year, the same tired pundits were again asserting that immigration would play a decisive role in the presidential race. Perhaps it did, but not in the way they imagined: on the Republican side, Mitt Romney ran thousands of anti-immigrant spots against John McCain, and lost. One-trick pony Tom Tancredo never gained any traction, and born-again anti-immigrant campaigner Mike Huckabee peaked in Iowa, never to be seen again. On the Democratic side, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama steered a consistent path for comprehensive reform, and Obama continues to advocate common sense immigration reform as he and McCain battle for the center of the U.S. electorate.
One point that conventional wisdom does have right is the fact that the fast-growing Latino and immigrant vote will hold major sway in 2008 at the Presidential level and down the ballot. The road to the White House travels right through Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, and Florida, key battleground states with large numbers of Latino voters. While Obama currently holds a strong edge with this key group, McCain could compete in some areas for their support, particularly if he strays back toward his maverick ideals on immigration instead of trying to appeal to GOP conservatives.
The immigration issue is particularly important to this group of voters, because the debate has become more about what kind of people we want in this country, rather than how many visas we should offer and what the process should be for obtaining one. As a result of the vitriol spewed during the House and Senate debates on immigration in 2005, 2006, and 2007, the immigrant community has been galvanized. Like no other previous election, immigrant voters may very well decide the outcome of national, Congressional, and local races. Candidates will be hard-pressed to attract these voters if they continually beat up on their parents, friends, and neighbors.
In 2008, immigration08.com will once again be the best resource available for those following the politics of immigration. We will be conducting our own public opinion research through Lake Research Partners and Benenson Strategy Group, as well as tapping their insights on immigration dynamics. Joining them will be Simon Rosenberg of NDN, Frank Sharry of America’s Voice, and other leading strategists. We will identify the top races across the country where the immigration issue figures prominently, and analyze the candidates’ tactics, policies, and performance in November.
Several factors will help guide which races we cover. Is a candidate using immigration as a wedge issue? Is he or she running on a platform of comprehensive immigration reform? Is immigration a high-profile issue in the district? Are Latino and immigrant citizens registered to vote in large numbers, and will they make a difference in the outcome?
We will start out with a number of races and pare back the list to a few key targets by mid-October, as the campaigns develop and it becomes clear which races are the most important to watch on this issue. These will be the bellwether races we believe set the tone for the direction of the debate nationwide, and provide important insight into the national mood on this issue. Our experts will provide both pre- and post-election commentary via conference calls, blogs, and the release of data and analysis, and will be available to talk to the media throughout the campaign season.
Perspectives on Immigration Enforcement:
- Need for Shift in Priorities on Immigration Enforcement Apr-09
- Arizona: Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Notorious Record Dec-08
- Local “Enforcement” of Immigration Laws Doesn’t Work Aug-08
- Immigration Reform and Protecting All-American Workers
- Worksite Enforcement — Bad Employers Get a Free Pass
The Politics of Immigration:
- What the 2008 Elections Mean For the Future of Immigration Reform Jan-09
- Republicans: Fenced In By Immigration Dec-08
- The Power of the Latino Vote in the 2008 Election Oct-08
- Senator John McCain on Immigration
- Senator Barack Obama on Immigration
- America’s Voice Analysis: The Presidential Candidates on Immigration
Profiles in Extremism:
- Mainstreaming Extremism: What’s the American Cause National Conference Cooking Up?
Rep. Steve King (R-IA): Carrying the Banner for Anti-Immigrant Extremists
- Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) Incendiary On Immigration, Linked To White Nationalist
- Mark Krikorian, Center for Immigration Studies, Chief Linguist of the Anti-Immigrant Lobby
- Visit our polling page for the latest
- National and Swing District Polling
- Swing District Polling (PDF)