Immigration Policy and the US Election

Posted on October 24, 2012 by


BY SEANIAD CONROY.

In the U.S Presidential election of 2012, the issue of immigration though not one of the major issues for voters like  the economy, taxes and healthcare, remains an important priority  for many in the general population and possibly deciding factor in migrant communities. The platforms put forward by the Democrats and Republicans contain similar themes of using migration to optimise the economy and humanitarian aims of family unification, but diverge on management of illegal immigration. As the largest group of legal and illegal migrant the Hispanic minority is an increasingly powerful and growing voting group that both parties need to consider in policy formation.                                                                                              

Even though immigration is not identified as one of the top priorities for the American electorate[1], it remains an important and divisive issue in U.S Politics. The largest group of legal and illegal immigrants are those from Spain, Mexico, Central and South America, generally from a Spanish speaking background and are collectively referred to as Latino or Hispanic.[2] Hispanics are now the largest minority group in the U.S according to the 2010 census, 16.4 % of the total population or nearly 51 million people in America identify as Hispanic, they are also the fasting growing sector of the population, growing 3.9 % since the 2000 census, significantly more than any other group.[3]  In some states and cities Hispanics make up a significant percentage of the total population; California for example has a Hispanic population of just over 14 million, making up 38% of the population[4] and New Mexico has a Hispanic population of 960 000 consisting of 46% of the total population.[5] This makes Hispanic Americans an important cultural and economic influence in America,  making up a voting bloc that has the potential to be influential at election time in various states. A as result the two major parties need to be able to balance the views and needs of a large and increasingly politically literate Hispanic minority[6] and the fears and concerns of a proportion of the American population that feel that illegal immigrants and large groups of ethnically different people are a threat to the American way of life. [7]

Is the fear of illegal immigrants valid? Anxiety about immigration in the general populous tends to rise with a corresponding rise in unemployment. According to a Pew survey contrasting voter priorities concerns about immigration have fallen, in 2008 at the peak of the global economic crisis, 52 % of voters viewed immigration as a priority in deciding their vote; in 2012 this had dropped to 42 percent.[8] Immigration is rated as a more important issue for Republican voters at 47 percent than for Democrats with 36 percent,[9] reflected in the harder line Romney has taken on particularity illegal immigrants, looking to appeal to conservatives in his campaign in particularly the primaries.[10]  Attempts to weigh up the costs and benefits of immigration is not an exact science. Both legal and illegal migrants are generally young healthy adults who pay income taxes if legal and do not require the services provided by government primarily for the young and elderly.  Even illegal Immigrants who do not pay income tax, pay taxes through other means e.g. sales tax, and contribute to the economy with their buying power and are unable to access most services provided by government. [11]  The accusation that illegal immigrants drive down wages for native Americans and take jobs during recessions seem to be only relevant to those  ten percent who have not completed high school, as the jobs many immigrants take are low paying and not very desirable to the general population.[12]

It is the large number of illegal immigrants residing and working in the U.S that many Americans have concerns with, overwhelmingly these come from the U.S’s southern neighbour Mexico. Just over half (51%) of all current Mexican immigrants are unauthorized, and some 58% of the estimated 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. are Mexican.[13]  Nearly two thirds of them have been living in the U.S for 10 years or more reflecting that illegal immigration from Mexico peaked in the in the late 1990s and early 2000s.[14] The numbers of Mexicans leaving and arriving in the U.S between 2005-2010 shows that net migration flow from Mexico to the United States has stopped and may have reversed.  The standstill appears to be the result of many factors, including the weakened U.S. job and housing construction markets, heightened border enforcement, a rise in deportations, the growing dangers associated with illegal border crossings, the long-term decline in Mexico’s birth rates and broader economic conditions in Mexico.[15]

The Democratic Party presents itself as being able to deal with immigration in a balanced way; with strong border controls and deportation of undesirable illegal immigrants, while alternately offering hope to certain groups of eligible illegal immigrants with legislation like the Dream Act (development relief and education for alien minors).[16] The Dream Act legislates to allow illegal immigrant students who meet the legibility criteria to gain a degree of permanent residency,[17] a bipartisan initiative that has been introduced to the senate multiple times since 2001, but yet to be passed.  In Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential victory, according to exit polls he received 67% of the Hispanic vote compared to John McCain who polled 32 %, the democrats up 8 points from the 2004 election, a possible reaction to the strong anti immigration rhetoric and policy of the Republican Party and response to more positive Democratic overtures.[18]  The increasing power and politicisation of  migrant groups , in particular Hispanics will be a long term  issue that political parties need to be paying attention to in the present; according to the U.S Census Bureau by 2050 , those identifying as Hispanic will make up a quarter of the total population.[19] The Democrats talk of bringing “immigrants out of the shadows and requires them to get right with the law, learn English, and pay taxes in order to get on a path to earn citizenship”[20] and concentrating on deporting those who pose a danger to the community, while opposing any state legislation that targets immigrants.[21] They claim that the heightened border security has already had success with illegal immigrant numbers “Today, the Southwest border is more secure than at any time in the past 20 years. Unlawful crossings are at a 40-year low.”[22] Statistics on the flow across the Mexican border, by far the largest entry point for illegal immigrants to the U.S shows that with increased deportations the net migration has fallen to zero.[23]

In line with the Republican Party, the Democratic platform looks to increase the number of high skilled immigrants to match the country’s economic needs, and reuniting and keeping families together is also a shared goal.[24] Not in line with the Republican Party the Democrats also recognises that ‘family’ in immigration includes LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender) relationships in order to protect bi-national families threatened with deportation.[25]  A criticism of Barack Obama’s first term is that immigration reform was not achieved, though promises were made to the Hispanic community.  Obama during an interview at the country’s largest Spanish speaking television network, accepted this failure, blaming the pressures of dealing with the economy, healthcare reform and a partisan opposition.[26]  Immigration reform is highlighted by Barack Obama as a second term priority.[27] Despite any significant developments on immigration reform and a record of deporting more illegal immigrants in his first term of government than George W Bush did in his,[28] the Democrats and Obama remain the party and candidate of choice for a large proportion of migrant voters; according to Pew centre research 70 percent of Hispanic voters say they will vote for Barack Obama and 26 percent Mitt Romney.[29]

The Republican Party’s platform on immigration for the 2012 U.S election focuses on the effect of immigrants both positive and negative on the economy. Their platform outlines how the country should be able to harness the innovations and skills of highly and often American educated, English speaking immigrants, by having more relevant visas available.[30]  Their policy regarding illegal immigrants is that no amnesty should be offered, as it rewards and encourages illegal actions and disadvantages those who attempt to enter the country through legal means,[31] Mitt Romney has stated that he will veto the Dream Act if elected.[32]  The Republican Party also puts forward the view that illegal labour adversely effects and undermines the U.S worker, whose jobs must be protected, though they do recognise that a guest worker program will be required to fill the historical and current needs of the country that the illegal immigrant has and does provide.[33]  The expansion and reinforcement of physical barriers is a major arm of the Republican’s strategy to keep out illegal aliens, this includes extending high tech fences and increases in border security, primarily along the U.S/ Mexican border. [34]   The Republican Party  also offers the incentive of permanent residence and an opportunity of citizenship for children of illegal immigrants if they undertake military service, but otherwise sees deportation as the primary solution to existing illegal immigrants.[35] The Republican party is supportive of state led initiatives to deal with illegal immigration and critical of federal interference citing the tenth amendment “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”,[36] for example the attempts by the federal government of have the state of Arizona’s controversial immigration laws, requiring police officers to demand identification papers from anyone suspected of being an illegal alien.[37] Mitt Romney who had previously strongly supported these laws in the run up to the election campaign, which have been accused of encouraging racial profiling, appears now to be caught between not wanting to alienate conservative voters who he courted with a hard line approach to immigration and increasingly influential Hispanic voters.[38]

 The fact that Republicans have not done more to woo Hispanic voters who share many values with them; conservatism, strong family values and religious belief, as George W Bush did winning New Mexico the most Hispanic state in 2004, is cited by commentators as a lost opportunity and short sighted policy planning.[39]  The hard line rhetoric of the Romney’s campaign on immigration potentially damages their chances of electoral success with Hispanic voters, Alberto Martinez an adviser and spokesman for the campaign on Hispanic issues stated “Ultimately what we’re talking about here is the tone is what has hurt Republicans in the past, not the policies.’’[40]  A Republican aid identified that though immigration was not a priority issue even among Hispanics; if the wrong tone and rhetoric was used Hispanic voters can be turned off listening to other policies.[41]  George W Bush’s attempts to speak Spanish, opposition to ‘ English only’ legislation and openness to paths for the possibility of citizenship for illegal immigrants, encouraged dialogue with the Hispanic community and bought him vital votes in his 2008 election win.[42]

During the 2012 U.S presidential election campaign, immigration has not been one of the top concerns of the electorate, with falling illegal immigrant numbers coinciding with a recession and slow to recover economy. What is important is the advantage of connecting with an increasingly influential immigrant group of Hispanic Americans. Mitt Romney and the Republican party have chosen to appeal to the concerns of  conservative voters in taking a hard line with illegal immigrants, alienating many Hispanic voters in the in the process. Alternately Barack Obama and the Democratic Party, while having strong policy on border security and deportations and not making any progress on immigration reform, presents options and possibilities to illegal immigrants of gaining residency and citizenship. The support of the Hispanic vote has the potential to help Barack Obama win the 2012 election and is a lost opportunity for the Republicans.

Bibliography

Anderson, S, Immigration, Greenwood Publishing Group, Santa Barbara California, 2010.

Democrats National Committee, 2012 Democratic Party national platform: moving America forward, viewed 25 September 2012, < http://www.democrats.org/democratic-national-platform>.

Gerson, m, ‘Republicans are missing an opening with Hispanic voters’, Washington Post, 25 September 2012, viewed 26 September 2012, <http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/michael-gerson-republicans-are-missing-an-opening-with-hispanic-voters/2012/09/24/edf5f1da-066a-11e2-afff-d6c7f20a83bf_story.html?wpisrc>.

Kriegar, J (ed.), The Oxford companion to the Politics of the world, 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2012, www.oxfordreference.com.alpha2.latrobe.edu.au/view/10.1093/acref/9780195117394.001.0001/acref-9780195117394-e-0320?rskey=lsEVu0&result=2&q=Hispanic

Lopez, MH, Ask the expert: importance of the Latino vote in 2012, Pew Hispanic Centre, 12 September 2012, viewed 25 September 2012, < http://pewresearch.org/pubs/2353/2012-election-hispanic-vote-latino-voters>.

MacAskill, E, ‘Romney campaign on back foot over Arizona immigration law’, Guardian, 25 June 2012, viewed 30 September 2012, < http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jun/25/romney-campaign-arizona-immigration-law>.

Moses, P, ‘The dream act’, Journal of College Admission, vol.206, 2010, p.2.

Motel, S, Statistical portrait of Hispanics in the United States 2010,Pew Hispanic Centre, 21 February 2012, viewed 29 September 2012,  <http://www.pewhispanic.org/2012/02/21/statistical-portrait-of-hispanics-in-the-united-states-2010/>.

Obama Biden forward, Immigration, Obama for America, 2011-2012, viewed 24 September 2012, <http://www.barackobama.com/immigration>.

‘Obama defends himself on immigration, says Romney out of touch with view of half the country’, Washington Post, 21 September 2012, viewed 26 September 2012, <http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/obama-gop-walked-away-from-immigration-overhaul-takes-responsibility-for-being-naive/2012/09/20/99f90d96-0355-11e2-9132-f2750cd65f97_story.html>.

Pew Hispanic Research Centre, As deportations rise to record levels, most Latino’s oppose Obama’s policy, Pew Hispanic Centre, 28 December 2011, viewed 30 September 2012, <http://pewresearch.otg/pubs/2158/latinos-hispanics-immigration-policy-deportations-george-bush-barack-obama-administration-democrats-republicans>.

Pew Research Centre, For voters it is still the economy: energy, terrorism, immigration less important than in 2008, 24 September 2012, viewed 27 September 2012, <http://www.people-press.org/2012/09/24/for-voters-its-still-the-economy/1/>.

Pilkington, E, U.S Election campaign: the key issues, Guardian, 27 September 2012, viewed 27 September 2012, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/27/us-elections-battle-soul-america?intcmp=122>.

Passel, J, D Cohn & A Gonzalez-Barrera, Net migration from Mexico falls to zero and perhaps less, Pew Hispanic Centre, 3 May 2012, viewed 30 September 2012, < http://www.pewhispanic.org/2012/04/23/net-migration-from-mexico-falls-to-zero-and-perhaps-less/?src=prc >.

Republican National Convention 2012, Republican platform 2012: we believe in America, 2012, viewed 25 September 2012, <http://www.gop.com/wpcontent/uploads/2012/08/2012GOPPlatform.pdf>.

Romney for president, Immigration, Romney for president Inc, n.d, viewed 24 September 2012, < http://www.mittromney.com/issues/immigration>.

Shear, MD & T Gabriel, ‘In Speech, Romney takes softer tone on immigration’, New York Times, 21 June 2012, viewed 26 September 2012, <http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/romney-outlines-approach-to-immigration-in-speech-to-latino-officials/?emc=eta1>.

Taylor, MH Lopez, J Passel & S Motel, Unauthorised immigrants: length of residency, patterns of parenthood, Pew Hispanic Centre, 1 December 2011, viewed 30 September 2012, <http://www.pewhispanic.org/2011/12/01/unauthorized-immigrants-length-of-residency-patterns-of-parenthood/?src=prc-headline>.

West, DM, Brain Gain, Brookings Institution Press, Washington DC, 2010.


[1] Pew Research Centre, For voters it is still the economy: energy, terrorism, immigration less important than in 2008, 24 September 2012, viewed 27 September 2012, <http://www.people-press.org/2012/09/24/for-voters-its-still-the-economy/1/>.

[2] J Kriegar (ed.), The Oxford companion to the Politics of the world, 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2012,  www.oxfordreference.com.alpha2.latrobe.edu.au/view/10.1093/acref/9780195117394.001.0001/acref-9780195117394-e-0320?rskey=lsEVu0&result=2&q=Hispanic.

[3]S Motel, Statistical portrait of Hispanics in the United States 2010,Pew Hispanic Centre, 21 February 2012, viewed 29 September 2012, < http://www.pewhispanic.org/2012/02/21/statistical-portrait-of-hispanics-in-the-united-states-2010/>.

[4] Pew Hispanic Centre, Demographic profile of Hispanics in California  2010, Pew Hispanic Centre, n.d, viewed 29 September 2012, < http://www.pewhispanic.org/states/?stateid=CA>.

[5] Pew Hispanic Centre, Demographic profile of Hispanics in New Mexico 2010, Pew Hispanic centre, n.d, viewed 29 September 2012, < http://www.pewhispanic.org/states/state/nm/>.

[6] MH Lopez, Ask the expert: importance of the Latino vote in 2012, Pew Hispanic Centre, 12 September 2012, viewed 25 September 2012, < http://pewresearch.org/pubs/2353/2012-election-hispanic-vote-latino-voters>.

[7] DM West, Brain Gain, Brookings Institution Press, Washington DC, 2010, p.p.93-94.

[8] Pew research Centre, For voters it is still the economy: energy, terrorism, immigration less important than in 2008, 24 September 2012, viewed 27 September 2012, http://www.people-press.org/2012/09/24/for -voters-its-still-the-economy/1/>.

[9] Ibid.

[10] MD Shear & T Gabriel, ‘In speech, Romney takes softer tone on immigration’, New York Times, 21 June 2012, viewed 26 September 2012, < http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/romney-outlines-approach-to-immigration-in-speech-to-latino-officials/?emc=etal>.

[11] MD West, Brain Gain, p.

[12] MD West, Brain Gain, p.12-13.

[13] J Passel, D Cohn & A Gonzalez-Barrera, Net migration from Mexico falls to zero and perhaps less, Pew Hispanic Centre, 3 May 2012, viewed 30 September 2012, < http://www.pewhispanic.org/2012/04/23/net-migration-from-mexico-falls-to-zero-and-perhaps-less/?src=prc >.

[14] P Taylor, MH Lopez, J Passel & S Motel, Unauthorised immigrants: length of residency, patterns of parenthood, Pew Hispanic Centre, 1 December 2011, viewed 30 September 2012, <http://www.pewhispanic.org/2011/12/01/unauthorized-immigrants-length-of-residency-patterns-of-parenthood/?src=prc-headline>.

[15] J Passel, D Cohn & A Gonzalez-Barrera, Net migration from Mexico falls to zero and perhaps less.

[16] Democrats National Committee, 2012 Democratic Party national platform: moving America forward, viewed 25 September 2012, < http://www.democrats.org/democratic-national-platform>.

[17] P Moses, ‘The dream act’, Journal of College Admission, vol.206, 2010, p.2.

[18] MD West, Brain Gain, p.p.58-59.

[19] MD West, Brain Gain, p.59.

[20] Democrats National Committee, 2012 Democratic Party national platform: moving America forward.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] J Passel, D Cohn & A Gonzalez-Barrera, Net migration from Mexico falls to zero and perhaps less.

[24] Democrats National Committee, 2012 Democratic party national platform: moving America forward; Republican National Convention 2012, Republican platform 2012: we believe in America, 2012

[25] Democrats National Committee, 2012 Democratic party national platform: moving America forward.

[26] ‘Obama defends himself on immigration, says Romney out of touch with view of half the country’, Washington Post, 21 September 2012, viewed 26 September 2012, <http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/obama-gop-walked-away-from-immigration-overhaul-takes-responsibility-for-being-naive/2012/09/20/99f90d96-0355-11e2-9132-f2750cd65f97_story.html>.

[27]Obama Biden forward, Immigration, Obama for America, 2011-2012, viewed 24 September 2012, <http://www.barackobama.com/immigration>.

[28] Pew Hispanic Research Centre, As deportations rise to record levels, most Latino’s oppose Obama’s policy, Pew Hispanic Centre, 28 December 2011, viewed 30 September 2012, <http://pewresearch.otg/pubs/2158/latinos-hispanics-immigration-policy-deportations-george-bush-barack-obama-administration-democrats-republicans>.

[29] MH Lopez, Ask the expert: importance of the Latino vote in 2012, Pew Hispanic Centre, 12 September 2012

[30]Republican National Convention 2012, Republican platform 2012: we believe in America, 2012, p.7, viewed 25 September 2012, <http://www.gop.com/wpcontent/uploads/2012/08/2012GOPPlatform.pdf>.

[31] Republican National Convention 2012, Republican platform 2012: we believe in America, 2012, p.25.

[32] Romney for president, Immigration, Romney for president Inc., n.d, viewed 24 September 2012,

< http://www.mittromney.com/issues/immigration>.

[33] Republican National Convention 2012, Republican platform 2012: we believe in America, 2012, pp. 25-26.

[34] Romney for president, Immigration.

[35] Romney for president, Immigration.; Republican National Convention 2012, Republican platform 2012: we believe in America, 2012, pp. 25-26.

[36] Republican National Convention 2012, Republican platform 2012: we believe in America, 2012, p.11, viewed 25 September 2012, <http://www.gop.com/wpcontent/uploads/2012/08/2012GOPPlatform.pdf>.

[37] R Barnes, ‘Supreme Court upholds key parts of Arizona law for now, strikes down other provisions’, Washington post, 21 June 2012, viewed 30 September 2012, <http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/supreme-court-rules-on-arizona-immigration-law/2012/06/25/gJQA0Nrm1V_story.html>.

[38] E  MacAskill, ‘Romney campaign on back foot over Arizona immigration law’, Guardian, 25 June 2012, viewed 30 September 2012, < http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jun/25/romney-campaign-arizona-immigration-law>.

[39] M Gerson, ‘Republicans are missing an opening with Hispanic voters’, Washington Post, 25 September 2012, viewed 26 September 2012, <http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/michael-gerson-republicans-are-missing-an-opening-with-hispanic-voters/2012/09/24/edf5f1da-066a-11e2-afff-d6c7f20a83bf_story.html?wpisrc>.

[40] MD Shear & T Gabriel, ‘In speech, Romney takes softer tone on immigration’, New York Times.

[41] MD Shear & T Gabriel, ‘In speech, Romney takes softer tone on immigration’, New York Times.

[42] M Gerson, ‘Republicans are missing an opening with Hispanic voters’, Washington Post, 25 September 2012.

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Seaniad Conroy is a 2nd year Bachelor of Arts student at Latrobe University Albury Wodonga, who has returned to study, hoping to achieve a mid-life career change.  When not studying or looking after her 3 children, she spends her spare time drinking cups of tea, reading the newspaper and thinking of interesting and clever ways to avoid housework.

The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of Our Voice: Politics Albury-Wodonga.

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