By Alan Bean
With the first presidential debate looming, Mitt Romney has moved to the center on the immigration issue. He still promises to oppose the DREAM act, if elected, to veto the bill if it passes congressional muster. But Romney now says he would honor the work visas which, at President Obama’s direction, are currently being awarded to young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.
As Ross Douthat (with admirable cynicism) pointed out in a recent column, when it comes to the immigration issue, presidential aspirants can win votes by exhibiting compassion (George W. Bush, Rick Perry) or by playing mean (Mitt Romney during the primary season), but there is no advantage to waffling between these two strategies. Like most right-leaning pundits, Douthat favors using immigration as a wedge issue:
Taking a more restrictionist position and using the issue to portray the Democrats as beholden to their party’s ethnic interest groups and out of step with blue collar Americans’ concerns.
The wise course, in other words, is to drive a wedge between hardworking Latinos and Anglos. Nice, Ross. A self-proclaimed “Christian” columnist advocates this sort of nastiness and no one cries “for shame!” That’s the America we live in. Christianity, it seems, has no moral application unless we’re talking about abortion.
Texas politicians like George W. Bush and Rick Perry are “soft on immigration” because their support base includes a lot of agribusiness people who couldn’t survive without cheap undocumented labor. Alienating Latino voters might benefit Republicans in the short-term; but it is a long-term loser.
It is also devilish, but hey, in American politics you’ve got to give the devil his due.
Romney and Obama are both waffling on the immigration issue. Obama claims to be working for comprehensive immigration reform (known as CIR in immigration reform circles), but he also deported a record 400,000 undocumented immigrants last year, three-quarters of them to Mexico. To put that in context, that’s the same number of undocumented residents the United States deported between 1908 and 1980. In theory, the feds are deporting criminals, “the worst of the worst”. In reality, half of the deportees have no criminal record and most of the “criminals” represent little threat to American public safety.
Historically, American politicians of both parties have waffled on immigration, bouncing between compassion and demagoguery. In 1986, Ronald Reagan signed a bill that exchanged amnesty for many undocumented immigrants for assurances that the border would be closed to new arrivals. Typically, the approach has been to privilege on group of undocumented Americans at the expense of other undocumented groups. The DREAM act, for instance, would allow young people who came to the United States as children to obtain work permits and apply for citizenship, but their parents, and children who arrived too late, would be out of luck.
This good-immigrant-bad-immigrant approach is fundamentally unfair and utterly unworkable. We gain nothing by kicking the immigration can down the road.
Politicians like Obama and Romney can’t be more progressive (or regressive) than the American middle. A new poll suggests that the majority of Americans now favor providing a path to citizenship over mass deportation. This shift occurred, I suspect, because Barack Obama found the courage to protect (albeit temporarily) DREAM act young people from immediate deportation.
Few of us think our way to an opinion. We listen to what significant others are saying and follow suit. We don’t all march to the same drummer, but few of us supply our own drum track. True reform will come when both major parties realize that they can get one of their people elected president, or they can enrage the Latino electorate, but they can’t do both.
Here’s the results of the CNN poll: (more…)