National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

Blog & Updates

A Little More Political Space

December 06, 2008 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

In the past three years, the immigration debate has been dominated by angry voices.  Any positive immigration reform proposal advanced in Congress to fix the broken immigration system elicited thousands of calls to Congressional offices as anti-immigrant groups and conservative talk radio hosts whipped their followers in opposition to “amnesty.”  With their passions raised, constituents opposed to reform that included any break for undocumented immigrants called again and again at each turn of the debate.  Up to now, there was little “political space” to move immigration reform; every time a proposal was floated in Congress, it was shot down by the flood of calls, and by the politicians who figured that those calls were representative of the majority of their constituents.

Funny thing happened on Election Day: those angry constituents could only vote once.  On election day, the voice of every voter had equal weight.  That was a problem for politicians who misjudged the composition of the electorate. 

The politicians who lost their races did so for many reasons.  Immigration, however, was a factor.  This wedge issue backfired big time.  What the parties will ultimately learn from this election will be debated for some time.  There is a debate, though, and it is not just taking place among the immigration advocates on both sides.  The story of Latino and immigrant voters rejecting candidates who adopted a hard line on immigration and turning out to vote in unprecedented numbers has been a feature in every analysis of this election appearing in the mainstream media. 

The new Administration and Congress have many serious problems to tackle.  Whether or not immigration reform is dealt with immediately, immigration reform advocates have gained political space.  Congress may again be flooded with calls opposing “amnesty,” but those calls will occur in a different context.  Now politicians are aware that come election day, their survival depends on reaching out to more than the segment of the electorate that is upset with undocumented immigrants.  It should give pause to politicians prone to attacking immigrants, and it should bolster those who are sympathetic, but who might not have risked taking a stand for immigration reform.

Our colleagues at the Immigration Policy Center have just released a summary of some of the polling and analysis that has been published since the election.  You can find it here.

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