Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Immigration Card in Play

Candidates and their supporters are continuing to use the immigration card in the countdown to November 7 elections. Here are some examples from around the country:

The most blatant use of the immigration hot-button card must be in Arizona where there are four immigration initiatives on the ballot. Voters will be asked to consider expanding the list of government benefits denied to illegal immigrants and make English the state's official language. Another one of the measures would prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving state-funded child care assistance, attending adult education classes or getting in-state tuition and financial aid at Arizona's public colleges. The Associated Press quotes GOP state Rep. Russell Pearce, the driving force behind the package: "If you came from New Mexico or California, you would pay out-of-state tuition. You would pay the full load. Why should the taxpayer subsidize you for higher ed when you are here illegally?" Wait, English will be the official language but the state will not help you learn it? And doesn't Arizona cities have sales taxes that everyone, including immigrants, must pay every time they buy something? (And I guess we can't bring up the millions of dollars that undocumented immigrants pay into Social Security but never take out...Oops, that's federal taxes...)

Also check out the lengthy article about immigration in the Arizona elections in the New York Times magazine "The Border Dividing Arizona". The article asks: "The leading edge of a new American nativism? The big Republican divide? Or just a line that voters will ignore next month?"

Under the dirty tactics category comes a recent Spanish-language letter sent by a "Sergio Ramirez" of the previously unknown "California Commisson for Immigration Reform" to Latino community members in Orange County in Southern California. The letter(see pages 3 and 4) incorrectly alerts immigrants that they cannot vote in the up-coming election and that anti-immigrant groups will have access to their information through a voting database. Neither claim is correct. A group of Latino organizations including MALDEF (The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund), wrote a sign-on letter calling on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to immediately investigate the matter since it amounts to voter intimidation. It's interesting to consider the motivation for this letter. Is the author worried about the impact of riled-up Latino voters on November 7? Or is he/she using typical broad strokes that erase the realities of immigration law? Does he/she not comprehend the naturalization process that allows immigrants to become citizens and vote?

The New York Times ran an interesting article this week about how many Democrats are trumpeting a conservative message on immigration in states like Tennessee, North Carolina and Nebraska. We've seen how the Democratic party has been taking the offense on border security by charging that immigration enforcement has faltered under Republican leadership. The New York Times points to the source of this tactic: Third Way, a centrist Democratic research group that has conducted polling on immigration. Third Way's vice president for policy, Jim Kessler says in the article "[Voters] think that Democrats are on the side of illegal immigrants even at the expense of citizens." Adopting a tougher message, he said, would make Democratic candidates less vulnerable in the November elections. Advocates are warning the party that they could alienate Latino voters, a growing force in the electorate. David Lubell, the director of the Tennessee immigrant rights coalition said it best: "These Democrats are trying to out-right the right."


Contact Russell Pearce and remind him that there are many ways that immigrants contribute to the state of Arizona. Ask him to stop using immigration as an election tactic and start considering what's best for EVERYONE in his state.

Send your own copy of the Latino advocates letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Contact Jim Kessler at Third Way and ask to him to advise candidates to drop the enforcement rhetoric and talk about human rights. Our nation needs true leadership on immigration right now not strategizing for electoral gains that may not result in significant change.