The Presidential Candidates and Immigration: A Good Start, but More Work—and Leadership—Needed
July 15, 2008
Washington, DC - As the two presumptive party nominees for President wrap up a period of high-profile outreach to Latino voters, the National Immigration Forum urges both campaigns to look beyond Latino voters to the broader, diverse universe of immigrants and immigrant voters. The following is a statement by Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, a non-partisan, pro-immigrant advocacy organization.
At the gatherings of LULAC1, NALEO2, and NCLR3, Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain clarified their message to Latino voters, speaking to high priority issues for the Latino community: education, the war in Iraq, health care, housing, jobs, and immigration.
With firebrands and blowhards - commentators and candidates included among them - dominating the topic of immigration reform, the reasonable tone with which Sens. McCain and Obama presented solutions to our broken immigration system were most welcome. Of course, the difference between candidates and elected officials is paramount. Quite simply, the proof will be in the pudding that either candidate makes as President of the United States of America.
It has been an interesting campaign for the immigration issue, so far. Tens of thousands of spots aired in the Republican primaries attacking immigrants and immigration, and at the campaign's outset in Iowa, immigration was a top concern for voters, especially in the Republican Party. However, the visibility of the issue has faded considerably4, in part because both presidential candidates hold substantially similar positions, and in part because other issues have surpassed immigration as a top national concern.
However, as one works their way down the ballot this November, we expect candidates in both parties to recycle the harsh anti-immigration rhetoric as the campaigns heat up. We also fully expect that the immigrant-bashing strategy will prove as ineffective this year as it has in past years.
Both parties run a tremendous risk of identifying immigration as solely an issue of interest to the Latino community and their voter efforts. Massive voter turnout across immigrant communities in the primaries is expected to continue in the general election5, with the Asian vote6, Arab-American vote7, and even bipartisan political action committees focused on immigration issues, adding to the already record Latino vote8. Immigrant communities are watching both campaigns closely to assess the commitment to broad reform. National and local voter registration and mobilization drives are targeting the broad and diverse spectrum of immigrant America, intending to get every eligible citizen to the polls in November. And those citizens-in-waiting who are languishing in naturalization backlogs, will find other ways to get involved in American democracy until they are finally eligible to vote.
The history of America has proven the immigrant voter does not fall cleanly into one political party or another. Our newest neighbors share values across party lines. But how a party and their candidates treat our families, our children, and our diverse brother and sister immigrants is how immigrants will vote.
Candidates at every level of government from city council and school board right up to the presidency must commit to pushing for realistic, rational, and fair immigration solutions. Immigrant voters want to hear how candidates will treat them and their neighbors. The candidate that offers our newest Americans respect, dignity, and defense against the ugliness of the anti-immigration backlash will earn their votes.
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1League of United Latin American Citizens
2National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials
3National Council of La Raza
4According to a Gallup survey released July 10, 2008, only 4% of respondents named immigration as the most important problem facing the country, down from 11% at the beginning of the year.
5For example, http://www.weareamericaalliance.org/
6For example, http://www.apiavote.org/
7For example, http://www.yallavote.org/
8See for example, http://www.yaeshora.info/