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.
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.
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.