National Immigration Forum

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Immigration and the 2008 Election

October 17, 2008 - Posted by Ali Noorani

Less than 3 weeks to go till Election Day and mum is the word when it comes to immigration.

Yet, looking at the mathematics of the likely voter, it is increasingly clear that Hispanic, Asian and other new immigrant voters will play a significant role in the race to the White House. In 2006, more than 15 million naturalized immigrants were eligible to vote – this will be their first presidential election. Record interest in attaining citizenship will increase that population by more than ten percent by November 4th.

Immigrant voters, magnified by Hispanics for whom the immigration debate influence their ballot box decision, are likely to determine the presidential election in four of the six states President Bush carried by five percentage points or less in 2004: New Mexico, Nevada, Florida and Colorado. These voters will also influence the outcome in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan—all vital states for winning the presidency.

President Bush realized the importance of the immigrant vote, and the issue of immigration reform. Over the course of the past 8 years, President Bush delivered primetime speeches on four topics: The War, The Economy, Hurricane Katrina and Immigration Reform.

The war in Iraq and the spiraling economy deserve top tier discussion and debate, and they have received it in the current contest for the White House. Disaster relief – and the treatment of the poor by our government – has been addressed (although, I would argue, not enough).

However, for the candidates and the media to brush under the carpet of nationally televised debates an issue that underlies nearly every domestic policy issue is irresponsible. Quite simply, the candidates and the media have ghettoized the immigrant community and the issue of immigration, which, in English at least, has been ignored.

Recent history has proven that special interests will use anti-immigrant arguments to attack policy proposals aiding the middle class and American workers. Broaden health care coverage? Opponents will argue citizen children of immigrant families don’t deserve to be included. Help workers keep more of their income? They’ll say immigrants are stealing low-wage jobs. Make sure our schools educate the leaders of tomorrow? Immigrant children don’t deserve a public education, some argue. Crisis on Wall Street? Must be the fault of the immigrant homeowner. Energy independence and the environment? Immigrants drain our resources.

And so on.

The same vocal minority that opposes meaningful immigration reform will use the lack of it to block anything they don’t like.

Barack Obama and John McCain have both spoken repeatedly to immigrant groups (and are buying Spanish language attack ads) in a sterile effort to woo the immigrant voter. Both have promised to fix the immigration system; both have promised to secure the border (sometimes in reverse order). Both realize that without a modernized immigration system, our culture of family first will be fractured and the vitality of our economy will be further drained.

Yet, neither candidate prioritizes immigration as they offer their agenda to help the middle class and heal our economy.

To win the election and move a domestic policy agenda, the winning candidate needs the immigrant vote firmly in their camp. For the millions of first-time immigrant voters, the candidate and the party that demonstrates a commitment to fix our dysfunctional immigration system will get their vote.

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