Bloggings On Immigration Law And Policy
by Greg Siskind
November 03, 2010
An old, old friend who is a major voice in conservative politics in this country agreed with this when we spoke about the election today (he was obviously a lot happier today than me). He also agreed that if the GOP needs to understand that the voter anger over economy gave them a short term opportunity to retake power, but that maintaining that power when things get back to normal will depend on broadening their coalition to include Hispanics.
Anyway, here's the news from National Council of La Raza:
Latino voters proved pivotal in several hotly contested midterm elections, including in Nevada, Colorado, and California, and likely helped Democrats retain their majority in the United States Senate. According to exit polls, Latino voters contributed significantly to the margin of victory in the Senate and gubernatorial contests in California and Colorado, as well as, most notably, the Senate race in Nevada between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Assemblywoman Sharron Angle. In addition, initial exit poll reports suggest that Latinos, motivated by the widespread anti-immigrant tone of many campaigns, increased their share of the electorate in several states. These results confirm an earlier report on Latino voters by NCLR (National Council of La Raza), the largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, which projected that an additional 700,000 Latino voters could participate in this election.
"Latino voters sent a loud and clear message this election: We reject the politics of fear and demonization. Where candidates engaged in the shameful scapegoating of immigrants and tactics that transparently disrespected Hispanics, such as in Nevada and Colorado, the response from Hispanic voters was overwhelming," said Janet Murguía, President and CEO of NCLR. "Latinos in 2010 reaffirmed their influential role in American politics, both as voters and as candidates, which will only increase in future elections. Political leaders and parties that demonize or take Latino voters for granted are taking a great risk."
"This was also an historic election for Latinos with the win of Susana Martinez in New Mexico, the first Latina ever to be elected as governor. And with the elections of Brian Sandoval as governor in Nevada and Marco Rubio as senator in Florida, it is clear that Latinos are forces to be reckoned with in both parties," noted Murguía. On the voting front, Latino voters in these and other states affirmed that candidates and positions matter in their voting choices.
Several pro-immigration groups commissioned the last minute very detailed poll of Hispanic voters in eight states. The link for the poll can be found here.
TAKEAWAYS FROM ELECTION 2010
No doubt you've already heard from plenty of pundits explaining yesterday's election. But from the immigration perspective, there are some important things to note that others might not be saying. Obviously, it's going to be a tougher environment for measures affecting illegally present immigrants. But let's get into some of the specifics.
First, what is the impact of the big shift in the House of Representatives? The losses in the House last night actually don't change that much in terms of the actual likely votes on bills affecting illegal immigration. That's because most of the ousted Democrats were Blue Dog conservatives who were much less likely to support a comprehensive immigration bill than their liberal counterparts.
Where the results are likely to have the biggest impact is at the committee level. The House Immigration Subcommittee has been a magnet for years for some of the most anti-immigrant members of the GOP. It's very likely that the next Chair of the committee will be someone VERY unfriendly. Of course, longer term thinkers in the GOP leadership might want to see about getting some voices of moderation on that committee if they hope to win over Latino voters. But if the past is an indication, the new Chair is going to be someone the Federation for American Immigration Reform is going to have on its speed dial.
The Senate remains in Democratic hands though some pro-immigrant voices will be gone. Pennsylvania Arlen Spector, a key co-sponsor of immigration legislation in the past, is leaving. Sam Brownback (R-KS), also a co-sponsor in the past of comprehensive immigration reform legislation, is departing the Senate to become Kansas' new governor. His replacement, Jerry Moran, actually has been a champion of physician immigration during his tenure in the House so perhaps he will be a supporter of legal immigration reform. The loss of the President's old Senate seat in Illinois is tough news for pro-immigration advocates as is the departure of Russ Feingold in Wisconsin. On the other hand, pro-immigration advocates can be cheered by the Democrats' overall better than expected performance in the Senate including the win by Majority Leader Harry Reid. And two of the Democratic losses from last night - Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas and Evan Bayh's seat in Indiana - may be less serious since the two have been unreliable votes on immigration (though Bayh, unlike Lincoln, supported the DREAM Act in September's vote on the issue).
Aside from having fewer overall pro-immigration supporters in the Senate (especially on issues involving illegal immigration), there are some other changes that might be coming. First, will Harry Reid step aside as Majority Leader as some have suggested he might given the poor performance of Democrats yesterday? If he does, Senators Schumer of New York and Durbin of Illinois are expected to fight for the spot. Schumer is the current very pro-immigration Chairman of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee. Durbin, also on the Immigration Subcommittee is great on issues affecting illegally present immigrants, but has been terrible when it comes to legal immigration. One fear I have is that Schumer would get Majority Leader and Durbin would become the Chair of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee. Hopefully, pro-business immigration groups will have be considered when the chair of the committee is decided if Schumer leaves the post. How about a swap of Harry Reid for the Immigration Subcommittee Chair and Schumer for Majority Leader?
As I noted yesterday, Senator-Elect Marco Rubio of Florida made a point of giving an inspriring tribute to his father's immigrant dreams so perhaps he will be a new pro-immigration voice in the GOP and seek out a seat on the Immigration Subcommittee as his predecessor Mel Martinez did.
Pro-immigration advocates are likely not going to be happy about yesterday's results in governors races around the country. Rick Scott is the apparent winner in Florida. The GOP nominee made a big point of pointing out his support for the Arizona bill. Not surprisingly, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer easily won. Nebraska's new governor-elect ran hard on an anti-immigrant agenda. And with the GOP picking up 15 state legislatures and more than 500 legislators yesterday, anti-immigration bills are likely to increase in number unless the Supreme Court clamps down on them.
Did yesterday's voters intend to send a message on immigration? Overwhelmingly, the answer is no. Immigration ranked a distant fourth in terms of issues of most importance to voters. Only 8% of voters yesterday considered illegal immigration the most important issue facing the country compared to 62% who thought the economy was the priority issue. 8% is actually on the high side compared to prior elections, not a surprise given the Arizona debate this year, but it's still quite low overall and should hopefully give some comfort to those who think casting a pro-immigration vote is a ticket to a primary opponent and ousting by the voters.
How did Latinos vote yesterday? Not surprisingly, they gave their support to Democrats by a margin 30 points higher than the general voter population (roughly the same as in 2008). Given that Democrats had an overall 7 point deficit in the national exit polls, Latinos have now proven to be a key part of the Democratic coalition for three election cycles in a row. Some may not realize that President Bush got almost half of Latino votes in 2004 and that Karl Rove considered Latinos a key constituency if the GOP was to achieve a permanent majority. I'll have more to say on this subject after more complete exit poll data is released from groups that focused on surveying Latino voters.
Of course, if Latinos largely stayed home yesterday, it would not matter if they overwhelmingly supported Democrats. In 2008, Latinos represented 9% of those who voted. Yesterday, they represented 8%. Still, they turned out in greater numbers than most other key groups in the Democratic coalition and held their own given the fact that GOP core groups were especially energized to vote. And they apparently made the difference in several elections including re-electing Senator Reid and likely re-electing Senator Murray in Washington and Bennett in Colorado.
With all that said, what can we expect from Washington on immigration issues over the next two years. First, I think it is safe to say that comprehensive immigration reform is dead until at least 2013 and that's only if the Democrats recapture most of the seats they lost yesterday. Pro-immigration groups had started this year to quietly abandon the idea that comprehensive immigration reform was the only approach to repairing the broken immigration system. That's why the DREAM Act as a standalone immigration fix has gained traction. But I think we're likely to see the floodgates open for efforts to pass small bills again and comprehensive immigration reform advocacy will largely be over as a legislative strategy.
Personally, I'm looking forward to getting to work on trying to make smaller fixes. This has been a lost decade for the immigration system with virtually no lawmaking since 2000. A number of critically needed changes - particularly those relating to legal immigration - that probably had the votes to pass were held up in the name of maximizing support for CIR. Expect to see a push for smaller bills affecting investors and business creators, high skilled workers, health care workers, AgJobs, DREAM, family immigration, etc. Chances are that we're going to see a push from the GOP to make E-Verify universal, more money for border security, tougher penalties on employer immigration violators and generally more enforcement. It's likely that support for legal immigration reform by the GOP will come with the price tag of adding in more immigration enforcement.
A nightmare scenario for pro-immigration folks is if the new Congress takes a protectionist tilt and labor left Democrats and xenophobic Republicans get together to push anti-business immigration bills targeting employment immigration. We've seen this in the case of past measures where Bernard Sanders, Richard Durbin and Chuck Grassley have co-sponsored protectionist immigration bills.
We could see some immediate action on immigration issues in the lame duck session that will be called shortly by Senator Reid and Speaker Pelosi. Senator Reid has already said he intends to re-introduce the DREAM Act and he needs just four votes to get the bill over the finish line. It is possible that he could get a few of the departing Senators to change their votes. Perhaps he can get Senators Voinovich, Bennett, Brownback, Gregg, LeMieux, or Lincoln to change their votes. All are theoretically "yes" votes. Or he might have a shot at getting New England Senators Brown, Snowe and Collins to reconsider. And the one no-show on the last vote was Lisa Murkowski, previously a moderate on immigration who has told Alaska's Democrats that in exchange for sending her back to Congress as a write-in independent candidate, she would think independently. So maybe she is persuadable.
Finally, let us not forget that we still have a pro-immigration President. He has largely deferred to Congress to work out immigration reform. His strategy has been largely to focus on beefing up enforcement in order to make it easier to make the case that the federal government has gotten illegal immigration under control. Remember the memo from a few months back discussing ideas for how the Administration could get a lot done on immigration independent of Congress? It may be time to blow the dust off that document. Of course, some in the GOP will go berzerk if that happens. But we may see President Obama become a lot more confrontational on this issue if it looks like he risks having no progress to show Latino voters after four years of his presidency.
Now we wait and see.
[UPDATE: I should have mentioned that a few new extremists have won elections and we'll have to see how much of an impact they have on immigration. One is Hazleton, PA Mayor Lou Barletta who has already said he's planning on making immigration his big issue. Another is Montgomery, AL city councilwoman Martha Roby who was behind an anti-immigration ordinance in her city. Sandra Adams defeated Suzanne Kosmas in Florida. Adams has pushed a number of anti-immigration bills in the Florida state legislature. I'm sure we'll be hearing more about some of these new members of Congress soon.]
[UPDATE #2] Looks like Kris Kobach is going to have to give up his lucrative job writing unconstitutional anti-immigrant bills to focus on his new job as Kansas Secretary of State where he'll focus on Kansas' massive problem of voting by illegally present immigrants.]
[UPDATE #3] See my post here regarding better polling data of Hispanic voters showing the exit polls may have actually understated Latino turnout and Latino support for Democratic candidates and they may have actually saved the Senate for the Democrats]
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Greg Siskind is a partner in Siskind Susser's Memphis, Tennessee, office. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, he received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago. Mr. Siskind is a member of AILA, a board member of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and a member of the ABA, where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman. He is the author of several books, including the J Visa Guidebook and The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Mr. Siskind practices all areas of immigration law, specializing in immigration matters of the health care and technology industries. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Comment: POTUS Obama has failed to deliver on his campaign promises to Latinos ~beyond lip-service with a flashy smile and
eloquent rhetoric. Many progressive feel betrayed for good reason
and I myself am no longer a Democratic Party Member, but am an
Independent Voter. Chicanos/Latinos need to become truly united
in harmony with other peoples for us to have more of a collective
impact on Amerikan Electoral Politics.
Unidos Venceremos! United We Will Win!
PETER S. LOPEZ AKA: Peta-de-Aztlan
"An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come."
~ Victor Hugo