Illegal Immigration: A Winning Issue for Democrats?

Some Democrats think that the Arizona law cracking down on illegal aliens will save them from electoral disaster in November.  They think this will rile up the Hispanics, and to fan the flames a few Democrats are making free with their favorite epithet against those who oppose them, Nazi.

I think that these Democrats are pursuing a losing hand on this issue.  Illegal immigration is extremely unpopular in this country and overheated epithets will simply further energize the conservative base.  More to the point, this election is going to be fought on the economy and government spending, and the Democrats are in dire shape on both those issues.  In regard to the immigration issue, I think there is evidence that some Democrats understand that rather than a gift this could be an electoral landmine.  This AP story here indicates that Obama concedes that Congress may not have the political appetite for immigration reform anytime soon, and notes the type of legislation that the Democrats propose eventually may ostensibly put enforcement before amnesty:  “An immigration proposal by three Democratic senators calls for more federal enforcement agents and other border security-tightening benchmarks before illegal immigrants could become legal U.S. residents, according to a draft of the legislation obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press. The bill is being developed by Reid of Nevada, Chuck Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.”

In an earlier post this week I quoted my favorite living historian Victor Davis Hanson on the issue of illegal immigration.  Here are his current thoughts on immigration as a political issue in the Fall:

A Losing Political Issue

The politics of illegal immigration are a losing proposition for liberals (one can see that in the resort to euphemism), even if they don’t quite see it that way. Here are ten considerations why.
Law?—What Law?

First, there is the simplicity of the argument. One either wishes or does not wish existing law to be enforced. If the answer is no, and citizens can pick and chose which laws they would like to obey, in theory why should we have to pay taxes or respect the speed limit? Note that liberal Democrats do not suggest that we overturn immigration law and de jure open the border — only that we continue to do that de facto. Confusion between legal and illegal immigration is essential for the open borders argument, since  a proper distinction between the two makes the present policy  indefensible—especially since it discriminates against those waiting in line to come to America legally (e.g., somehow our attention is turned to the illegal alien’s plight and not the burdensome paperwork and government obstacles that the dutiful legal immigrant must face).

Why Wave the Flag of the Country I Don’t Wish to Return To?

Second, often the protests against enforcement of immigration law are strangely couched within a general climate of anger at the U.S. government (and/or the American people) for some such illiberal transgression (review the placards, flags, etc. at May Day immigration rallies). Fairly or not, the anger at the U.S. and the nostalgia for Mexico distill into the absurd, something like either “I am furious at the country I insist on staying in, and fond of the country I most certainly do not wish to return to” or “I am angry at you so you better let angry me stay with you!” Such mixed messages confuse the electorate. As in the case with the Palestinians, there is an effort to graft a foreign policy issue (protecting an international border) onto domestic identity politics, to inject an inflammatory race/class element into the debate by creating oppressors, victims, and grievances along racial divides.

Big Brother Mexico?

Third, Mexico is no help. Now it weighs in with all sorts of moral censure for Arizonians — this from a corrupt government whose very policies are predicated on exporting a million indigenous people a year, while it seeks to lure wealthy “gringos” to invest in second-homes in Baja. The absence of millions from Oaxaca or Chiapas ensures billions in remittances, less expenditures for social services, and fewer dissident citizens. But the construct of Mexico as the concerned parent of its own lost children is by now so implausible that even its sympathizers do not take it seriously. Mexico has lost all credibility on these issues, expressing concern for its own citizens only when they seem to have crossed the border — and left Mexico.

It’s Not a Race Issue

Fourth, there really is a new popular groundswell to close the borders. Most against illegal immigration, especially in the case of minorities and Mexican-American citizens, keep rather mum about their feelings. But that silence should not be interpreted as antagonism to enforcing the law. Many minorities realize that the greatest hindrance to a natural rise in wages for entry level jobs has been the option for an employer to hire illegal aliens, who, at least in their 20s and 30s, will work harder for less pay with fewer complaints (when sick, or disabled, or elderly, the worker is directed by the employer to the social services agencies and replaced by someone younger as a new cycle of exploitation begins). In this context, the old race card is less effective. The general population is beginning to see not that Americans (of all races who oppose illegal immigration) are racist, but that the open borders movement has itself a racially chauvinistic theme to it, albeit articulated honestly only on university campuses and in Chicano-Latino departments, as a sort of “payback” for the Mexican War, where redress for “lost” land is finally to be had through demography.

Bad Times

Fifth, we are in a deep recession, in which the jobs that for so long seemed unappealing to American citizens are now not all that unappealing. The interior of California suffers from 20% Depression-style unemployment; many of the jobless are first and second-generation Mexican-Americans, who would have some leverage with employers if there were not an alternative illegal labor poll.

A Fence—How Quaint!

Sixth, the so-called unworkable fence mostly works; it either keeps border crossers out or diverts them to unfenced areas. (There is a reason why Obama has ordered its completion tabled). It used to be sophisticated wisdom to tsk-tsk something as reductive as walls, usually by adducing the theory that if an occasional alien made it over or under a wall, then it was of no utility, without acknowledging the fence’s effectiveness in deterring most would-be crossers. But where the fence has gone up, crossings have gone down; and where it is not yet completed crossings have increased.

One Big Travel Advisory?

Seventh, Mexico is now more violent than Iraq. The unrest is spilling across the borders. The old shrill argument that criminals, drug smugglers, and violence in general are spreading into the American southwest from Mexico is not longer quite so shrill.
11 Million—Then, Now, Forever?

Eighth, the numbers are cumulative. We talked of “eleven million illegal aliens” in 2001, and still talk of “eleven million illegal aliens” in 2010. In fact, most suspect that there is more likely somewhere between 12 and 20 million. (Do the math of annual arrivals and add them to the existing pool, factoring in voluntary and coerced deportations).

Money for Mexico?

Ninth, we are at last turning to the issue of remittances: How can expatriates send back some $20-30 billion in remittances, if they are impoverished and in need of extensive entitlements and subsidies to cushion the harshness of life in America? Do those lost billions hurt the U.S. economy? Are they a indirect subsidy for Mexico City? Were such funds ever taxed completely or off-the-books cash income? Remittances are Mexico’s second largest source of foreign exchange; that it comes so often off the sweat of minimum-wage workers seems especially ironic, given Mexico’s protestations about human rights.

The California Canary

Tenth, California’s meltdown is instructive. If about half the nation’s illegal aliens reside in the state, and its problems are in at least in some part attributable to soaring costs in educating hundreds of thousands of non-English-speaking students, a growing number of aliens in prison and the criminal justice system, real problems of collecting off-the-books income and payroll taxes, expanding entitlements, and unsustainable social services, do we wish to avoid its model?

The Law’s a Mess?

The enforcement of the law, such as it is, has become Byzantine: illegal aliens in California pay a third of the college tuition as non-resident citizens; police routinely inquire about all sorts of possible criminal behavior — except the violation of federal immigration statutes. Past, once-and-for-all, final, absolutely-no-more amnesties encourage more illegal entries on the expectation of more such no-more amnesties.

Go here to read the rest.  I think the politics on this are relatively simple.  Most Americans believe that illegal immigration is a serious problem, with a substantial majority of Americans believing that it is important that we gain control of the border and stop or substantially reduce illegal immigration.  Being viewed as soft on illegal immigration is clearly a loser.  If cracking down on illegals is popular in Massachusetts as indicated in this story, the politics are crystal clear across the nation.   Democrat strategists viewing reaction to the Arizona law as a silver bullet to save the Democrats in November aren’t stupid.  I assume they understand this, but are betting that ginning up the Hispanic vote in the midterms is worth that risk.  Not this year, in my opinion.


Update I :  “Arizona legislators approve changes in Arizona law:  several changes to the recently passed sweeping law targeting illegal immigration.

If Gov. Jan Brewer supports the changes, they will go into effect at the same time as the new law, 90 days from now.

The current law requires local and state law enforcement to question people about their immigration status if there’s reason to suspect they’re in the country illegally, and makes it a state crime to be in the United States illegally.

One change to the bill strengthens restrictions against using race or ethnicity as the basis for questioning and inserts those same restrictions in other parts of the law.

Changes to the bill language will actually remove the word “solely” from the sentence, “The attorney general or county attorney shall not investigate complaints that are based solely on race, color or national origin.”

Another change replaces the phrase “lawful contact” with “lawful stop, detention or arrest” to apparently clarify that officers don’t need to question a victim or witness about their legal status.

A third change specifies that police contact over violations for local civil ordinances can trigger questioning on immigration status.”


Update II:  Poll, which may be read here, shows widespread support for Arizona law.

22 Responses to Illegal Immigration: A Winning Issue for Democrats?

  1. restrainedradical says:

    I’m not aware of anyone who thinks this will erase the Republican advantage in November. But it’s a long-term blow to the GOP. When Tom Tancredo, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush are running from it, it’s safe to say that this isn’t a political winner.

    Gov. Brewer got a boost among whites which widens her lead against Goddard. But Goddard’s lead among Hispanics just jumped 26 points! Rarely in politics do you ever see such a big swing.

    Whites who are leaning Republican because of this issue can be swayed by other issues like abortion or the economy. The Hispanics who are abandoning the GOP because of this issue aren’t coming back. The GOP is losing a generation of Hispanics and Asians.

  2. Donald R. McClarey says:

    I don’t think that most Hispanics who are legally here restrainedradical are actually much fonder of illegal aliens being allowed to stay in the country than most other Americans. The Democrats will get majority of the Hispanic votes in the Fall, as they usually do outside of Florida with its Cuban-American population. But I predict a fall off from the percentage received by the Democrats in 2008. Hispanics are primarily economic voters like most other Americans, and a lousy economy is always going to be blamed on the party in power.

    As for Marco Rubio, a man who I expect will eventually be the GOP standard bearer for Presidency some day, here is his position on the Arizona law:

    “Our legal immigration system must continue to welcome those who seek to embrace America’s blessings and abide by the legal and orderly system that is in place. The American people have every right to expect the federal government to secure our borders and prevent illegal immigration. It has become all too easy for some in Washington to ignore the desperation and urgency of those like the citizens of Arizona who are disproportionately wrestling with this problem as well as the violence, drug trafficking and lawlessness that spills over from across the border.

    “States certainly have the right to enact policies to protect their citizens, but Arizona’s policy shows the difficulty and limitations of states trying to act piecemeal to solve what is a serious federal problem. From what I have read in news reports, I do have concerns about this legislation. While I don’t believe Arizona’s policy was based on anything other than trying to get a handle on our broken borders, I think aspects of the law, especially that dealing with ‘reasonable suspicion,’ are going to put our law enforcement officers in an incredibly difficult position. It could also unreasonably single out people who are here legally, including many American citizens. Throughout American history and throughout this administration we have seen that when government is given an inch it takes a mile.

    “I hope Congress and the Obama Administration will use the Arizona legislation not as an excuse to try and jam through amnesty legislation, but to finally act on border states’ requests for help with security and fix the things about our immigration system that can be fixed right now – securing the border, reforming the visa and entry process, and cracking down on employers who exploit illegal immigrants.”

    The Arizona law is not going to spur a movement to support amnesty, but rather the reverse.

  3. Tim Shipe says:

    I wonder how the average Arizona policeman feels about this new law- by that I mean he/she may be hung out to dry if what they consider to be ‘reasonable suspicion’ is put to countless legal challenges- I’m just trying to put myself in their shoes- and it could be a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario where they will constantly be asking themselves- “am I racially profiling?” Police are no different from us in that they will have certain stereotypes and even inadvertant prejudices which could lead them into trouble in Federal Courts and so forth- is there something built into the law that would protect the police from lawsuits that will inevitably occur – except in egregious cases of obvious harrassment or abusive treatment?

  4. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Cops will feel cautious Tim as they do with any law until it has been through the court mill a few times. The first arrests under the law, assuming that enforcement will not be blocked, will probably be cases so obvious that the cops can’t ignore them. Of course a lot of this also depends upon their instructions from their superiors and the attitude of the local district attorney to enforcing the new law.

  5. restrainedradical says:

    I don’t think that most Hispanics who are legally here restrainedradical are actually much fonder of illegal aliens being allowed to stay in the country than most other Americans.

    Simply not true. Goddard jumped 26 points against Brewer among Arizona’s registered Hispanic voters after this bill was signed. He’s still trailing but has a 46 point advantage among registered Hispanic voters. The Arizona Hispanic Republicans have come out against the law. Arizona had one of the most Republican Hispanic populations before the bill was signed. Overnight Arizona’s Hispanics became as Republican as California’s.

    If I had to guess, less than 20% of Hispanics here legally, are in favor of this law. Probably less than half that among 1st and 2nd generation legal immigrants. There’s an enormous racial divide on this issue.

  6. Donald R. McClarey says:

    The polls in Arizona are in conflict restrainedradical. Rasmussen is showing Brewer way up after signing the bill with an eight point advantage over Goddard.

  7. I would imagine that to the extent this has a long term political effect, it will probably be against the GOP. However, I doubt that (despite the tendency to assume that whatever occupies the news waves at a given moment is the pivotal event in some trend) there will actually be much movement one way or the other in the long term as a result of this particular dust-up.

    However, despite consistent Democratic hopes to the contrary, I can’t see that the Hispanic vote will ever become the uniform and overwhelming Democratic voting bloc that the Black vote has become. Despite the efforts of Latino activists, it’s not an absolutely defining label for most 2nd and 3rd generation Hispanics, and many of us simply stop idenfiying as members of the group consistently after a couple generations anyway. The fact that in the coming decades majorities of the Southwestern states will be Hispanic in origin does not mean that they’ll all act like the self-identified Hispanic voters on polls now.

  8. restrainedradical says:

    I don’t see the conflict Don. Brewer benefited from this but the bump came entirely from whites.

  9. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Rasmussen doesn’t break it down by ethnicity restrainedradical. The difference in the polls is that PPP shows Goddard plus three while Rasmussen shows Brewer plus eight.

  10. Blackadder says:

    I wonder how the average Arizona policeman feels about this new law

    Well, the Sheriff of Pima County had this to say:

    The state’s sweeping immigration law is a “national embarrassment” that Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said he’ll enforce only if he’s forced to.
    “This law is unwise. This law is stupid, and it’s racist,” Dupnik said Wednesday. “It’s a national embarrassment….”

    It’s probably safe to say he’s not a fan of the law.

  11. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Last year Dubnik wanted to ask school kids about whether they were in the country illegally. Goodness knows why he was willing to do that and finds this law “stupid and racist”.

    Oh, I understand now. As Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a Republican points out, Dubnik is a Democrat. I am shocked, shocked!

  12. Blackadder says:

    If Dubnik was willing to have teachers ask students to prove they are here legally, I don’t think you can explain his opposition to the current law just based on his being a Democrat. Maybe the fact that this law has to do with the police (and thus affects him personally while the education thing does not) has something to do with it?

  13. Blackadder says:

    Btw, if Joe Arpaio is any indication of how the Arizona law is going to be enforced, then I’d say the criticism is justified.

  14. Donald R. McClarey says:

    A man who was willing to have students turn informer on their parents could not possibly have an objection to this mild by comparison law except for partisan purposes.

  15. Donald R. McClarey says:

    I’ll take Joe Arpaio any day BA over a sheriff who apparently believes that his badge gives him a right not to enforce a law of his state.

  16. Blackadder says:

    Don, the problem is that Arpaio isn’t enforcing the law either. By focusing on illegal immigration he has neglected traditional law enforcement, with the result that, to quote the East Valley Tribune, “[r]esponse times, arrest rates, investigations and other routine police work throughout Maricopa County have suffered.”

  17. Donald R. McClarey says:

    The East Valley Tribune ran the series in the summer of 2008 BA when Arpaio was running for his fifth term as sheriff. He won re-election 55-42. Apparently a majority of the voters in his county are satisfied with how he is doing his job.

  18. […] least the peaceful protesters against the new Arizona immigration law are shining examples of democracy on […]

  19. […] least the peaceful protesters against the new Arizona immigration law are shining examples of democracy on […]

  20. Arizona Law says:

    Personally I think Arizona’s new law is a great law. We all recognize that we need to allow a better path to citizenship, but since the state can’t grant the citizenship the only way we can protect ourselves is to enforce harsher penalties against all illegal immigrants. We can’t sort the good and the bad until the Federal government acts. Instead of protesting our actions people should be petitioning their congressmen to reform immigration laws. We just want to keep the criminals and drug dealers out of our state.

  21. […] Illegal Immigration:  A Winning Issue for Democrats? […]

  22. destructionist says:

    Most people in America aren’t against immigration; they’re just against illegal immigration. For example, like most of our ancestors, my mother’s parents were immigrants. They came through Ellis Island and followed the various legal steps required in order to establish themselves as true citizens of this country. The immigrants crossing the Mexican border, however, have absolutely no interest in following these legal protocols. Once they cross the border, they change their names and/or purchase social security numbers in an effort to conceal their true identities from the law. It is not uncommon for an illegal immigrant to purchase not one, but two or more social security numbers, just in case one is flagged. I have witnessed this crime with my own eyes. (One day, a supposedly legal immigrant was asked to give their social security card to a receptionist for a job application and an interview. When the receptionist happened to ask to see the card a second time, the immigrant mistakenly handed over a different social security card with the same name on it, but with a completely different set of numbers…)

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against Hispanics. I have many Hispanic friends, but they either have green cards to work in the United States or have become legal citizens. They decided to follow the rule of law and work within the boundaries of our legal system. Unfortunately, many immigrants do not, and it is those particular individuals that we are most concerned about.

    Now it seems that those who sympathize with illegal immigrants wish to hijack the discussion of reform by attacking the law recently imposed by the State of Arizona through protests and boycotts; a state mind you, that has been besieged with crime, drugs and an ever-increasing population of illegal immigrants. Don’t allow them this option. Speak out and take action. This is your country… fight for it.

    In closing, I consider myself to be a bleeding-heart liberal: a Democrat. My ancestor, Roger Williams – the founder of Rhode Island and founder of the First Baptist Church in America, was one too; regarding the acceptance of different nationalities, cultures and religions as the vitality and lifeblood of any country. Nevertheless, I think that he would agree with me; that immigrants wishing to become legal citizens have not only the obligation, but the civil and legal responsibility to follow the rules of law established by any country in which they wish to become authentic citizens, just as our ancestors – both yours and mine – struggled so arduously and righteously to achieve.

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