This week White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel joined a growing list of strategists and leaders from both parties in acknowledging that immigration politics have tacked in a decidedly pro-reform direction.
In an interview with Hispanic journalists this week, Emanuel noted that “the arrow is pointing in a different direction in relation to immigration politics in this country.” As evidence, he offered the debate over the recently-enacted Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), when virtually all Democrats in the House and Senate joined with Republicans such as Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL), among others, to include legal immigrant children and pregnant women in the program. According to press reports, Emanuel cited the White House’s commitment to including legal immigrants in CHIP as an example of the importance the new Administration has placed on these issues. Advocacy organizations hailed the Administration and Congress’ work on CHIP and set their sights on the next stop: comprehensive immigration reform.
While Emanuel’s comments on the timing of comprehensive immigration reform legislation were vague, it is clear that the 2008 elections and the perspectives of Latino and other swing voters are beginning to be heard in Washington. According to election analysis by America’s Voice and other experts, the 2008 election results and extensive public opinion research shows that a sensible immigration reform position is a political winner, rather than the potent wedge issue that some Congressional candidates expected (and some Republicans in Congress continue to believe).
“The 2008 elections showed unequivocally that comprehensive immigration reform is good policy and good politics,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice. “To have Rahm Emanuel acknowledge this new consensus is hugely consequential, given his role in the White House and in shaping conventional wisdom inside Congress.”
Congressional leaders like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), and others are also speaking up about the need to engage on comprehensive immigration reform. Reid recently reiterated his intention to pursue comprehensive immigration reform in 2009, stating on Univision’s “Al Punto” show: “I hope that we can get it done in September, and I feel confident that we can get this done.”
Leading conservative strategists and thinkers, from Karl Rove to Grover Norquist, are similarly taking note of the political realities of immigration and the GOP’s tattered brand image among Latino voters, due in part to the Party’s handling of the immigration issue. America’s Majority, a right of center group, recently released a study on immigration in the 2008 elections that decried the Republican reliance on the unsuccessful anti-immigration wedge strategy. Richard Nadler, the group’s President, said, “‘enforcement-only’ proved disastrous for Republicans in communities containing even a modest Hispanic presence…the implications are clear: Republicans who oppose Comprehensive Immigration Reform are sitting on a demographic time bomb.”
“The American people voted for leaders who promised progress on important issues like immigration reform. For too long, the broken immigration system has been a symbol of how Washington doesn’t work. Emanuel’s comments about the politics of immigration are welcome, because they show the tide is turning on these issues. Next stop: Comprehensive Immigration Reform.”
America’s Voice analysis on the 2008 elections and the new politics of immigration is available at http://www.immigration08.com/.
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