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Outside the Beltway Roundup

April 09, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger


With Congress still out on recess, the action on immigration reform continues to be outside the beltway and, in any event, one can get a better sense of the momentum for reform by looking at what is going on around the country.  So, here are a few items from around the country from this week's news: Advocates from Nashville return from Washington and turn to the task of convincing their fellow Tennesseans that immigration reform is crucial.  North America's fastest-growing labor union is fed up with ICE, and is taking action.  There will be more major immigration rallies Saturday.  Finally, a new poll from California highlights another aspect of demographic change and a shift in the political climate for immigration reform.

Middle Tennesseans for Immigration Reform
An article in the weekly Nashville City Paper focused on the "sizeable contingent of middle Tennesseans" who traveled in a 10-bus caravan to Washington to attend the March 21st immigration rally in Washington. The article noted that this "surprising show of organizational muscle" may signal a change in the immigration debate in Tennessee.

"Middle Tennessee's immigrant population has been defined publicly less on its own terms than by a small opposition's attempts to stymie it."

Today, however, a new willingness to speak up in its own defense,

"…represents a step forward for the region's immigrant population as a whole, a sign this widening slice of the demographic is no longer content to remain a cloistered part of the local political and social fabric."

The article notes that Nashville is already ahead of the curve in tolerance for newcomers.  In the days ahead, the task will be "to turn immigration reform from a minority issue into one all Tennesseans see as crucial."  As Stephen Fotopulos, Executive Director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition told the paper,

"It's important for people to know that this is not just an issue in Illinois or New York or California.  This is our immigration system, and it's failing all Americans, whether you're an immigrant or not."

SEIU Wants ICE to Re-Focus
In the wake of a slew of reports about the misdirection of immigration enforcement, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has organized a series of vigils at the offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) around the country.  Thursday, there were vigils in Sacramento and Oakland.  Today, there are vigils in San Jose, Los Angeles, Boston, and St. Paul.  There will be more.  According to SEIU's media advisory,

"Thursday and Friday's vigils are an effort to illustrate the ongoing, human cost of this agency's misguided, out-of-control immigration enforcement strategy…. ICE's "strategy" of sowing misery in workplaces and communities not only fails to tackle the underlying issue of our broken immigration system, it also contradicts efforts to improve wages and working conditions of all U.S. workers.

A(nother) National Day of Action
Tomorrow, April 10th, tens of thousands of immigrants and their supporters are expected to rally in support of immigration reform in Seattle, Las Vegas, Chicago, Philadelphia, El Paso, Providence, and Lakewood, New Jersey.  We look forward to the stories coming out of those events.

Immigration Politics and Demographic Change
An article in April 8th's Los Angeles Times highlighted a new public opinion poll from the Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California in which Californians were asked their views on immigration reform.  The poll showed that Californians, by wide margins, would support "stronger enforcement at the border" coupled with "a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants who admit they broke the law, perform community service, pay fines and back taxes and learn English."  More than two-thirds (67%) support such a proposal.  There is similar support for a proposal in which there is stronger enforcement coupled with a guest worker program.

The other option given in the poll, stronger border enforcement plus denial of public services to undocumented immigrants, is opposed by a plurality of Californians.  This opposition contrasts with support for Proposition 187 in the mid-1990s, a ballot initiative to deny public benefits to undocumented immigrants that passed by 60%.

The article discusses a phenomenon that may partially explain why organized opposition to immigration reform is becoming more anemic, while reform advocates seem to be gaining momentum.  That phenomenon is demographic change.  Not the kind of demographic change that we are always talking about, the rapidly-growing Latino and New American electorate, but something else that has been taking place at the same time.

Californians aged 18 to 29 opposed this proposal [to deny undocumented immigrants social services from the state] by more than a 20-point margin, while voters 65 and over supported it by 12 points. That's a differential of more than 30 points between age groups ... a much larger disparity than when the results were examined by racial or ethnic category. Further, on the more basic question of whether illegal immigrants have an overall positive or negative effect on the state, voters under 45 joined Latino and Asian American respondents in answering that illegal immigrants represent a net benefit.

The difference is not explained by a greater cohort of immigrant young people.  It is true of white young people as well.  Young people are growing up with people from all over the world.  Immigrants are classmates, friends, and co-workers, not "invaders."  As the Times notes,

"…the growth in the Latino and Asian population in the state has given young Californians a much higher comfort level than their elders with those of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. In both cases, exposure has brought familiarity, which has in turn brought tolerance."

While young people still vote in lower percentages than their elders, they are still a growing part of the electorate, and yet another reason why immigration reform is not just good politics but good policy.

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