US Polls Bode Poorly for Immigration Reform

Matthew O. Berger

HAVANA TIMES, Nov 2 (IPS) — With conservatives likely to be the biggest winners in Tuesday’s U.S. congressional elections, efforts to achieve a more compassionate national immigration policy may be one of the biggest losers.

Republicans are widely expected to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives and possibly the U.S. Senate after an election season characterized by huge campaign spending and the emergence of a powerful reactionary right in the Tea Party movement.

Even before elections heated up this fall, though, congressional Republicans had moved toward favoring more conservative brands of immigration policy – heavy on tighter border security, light on amnesty – in recent years, and that shift is likely to continue if the Republican candidates running for election succeed Tuesday.

All the Republican Senate candidates have advocated for a policy that emphasizes tougher border security first. And tight races in Colorado and Arkansas could produce two new hard-line anti-migrant senators – in the latter race, one who has expressed support for amending the U.S. Constitution to not guarantee citizenship to everyone born on U.S. soil.

The U.S. is estimated to be home to about 11 million people who have entered the country illegally. Four in five of those are of Hispanic origin and efforts to “seal” the U.S. border with Mexico have been at the heart of many Republican – and some Democrat – campaigns in recent years.

This has especially been the case in western states, which are closer to the border and where immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries make up a more significant slice of the workforce and population.

Many of those western states are voting for a state governor Tuesday. In Arizona, voters are expected to re-elect the current governor, a Republican, who in April signed an infamous law which allowed police to detain people they suspected of being illegal immigrants and made it a crime to not carry proof of one’s immigration status.

In Colorado, there is a close race for governor between the Democrat candidate and a Republican candidate who has taken a hard-line position against illegal immigrants. Other significant governor races will be decided in New Mexico and California.

As other states see their demographics shift with increasing numbers of Hispanics – and residents, whether rightly or not, fear job losses due to that influx of new labor – immigration is becoming a key election issue even in states far away from the Mexican border. In Nebraska, for instance, the current governor, running for reelection, has said he would like to see an immigration law in his state similar to Arizona’s. There are similar pushes for stricter immigration enforcement in many other states, as well.

But the fact that people are talking more about immigration has been bad news for advocates for more compassionate immigration policies. The approval ratings for the Arizona Governor Jan Brewer have gone up dramatically since she signed the tough anti-illegal immigration bill in April.

Even before Tuesday’s official election results, advocates for more conservative immigration policies have already made strong gains in the U.S. this year.

Last March, the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) was reintroduced in the U.S. Congress after previous versions failed to get enough support in 2001 and 2007. The bill would have given people who arrived in the U.S. illegally as minors the opportunity to gain permanent residency through attending college or serving in the military, rather than facing deportation.

Advocates have pointed to the both the economic and national security benefits of the bill, as well as the moral argument that children who grew up in the U.S. should not be punished because their parents brought them there illegally.

Hoping to increase its chances of passage, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid attached the DREAM Act to a defense spending bill, but, in September, Senate Republicans and one Democrat blocked its passage.

That rejection followed the pattern that has defined Capitol Hill since President Barack Obama took office in January 2009. Republicans have also blocked significant legislation on climate change and dramatically watered down legislation on health care reform, financial regulation and economic stimulus.

Advocates for comprehensive immigration reform are hoping that voters – especially Latinos – see this pattern of “no” votes and become concerned enough to vote Tuesday.

The most recent numbers from independent pollster Latino Decisions, released Monday, showed 77 percent of Latino voters saying they were certain to vote on Tuesday. That percentage is over 10 points above where it was Sep. 27, just six days after the DREAM Act was successfully blocked.

Seventy percent of that Latino vote is expected to go to Democrats, with the remainder going to Republicans, according to Latino Decisions, which pressed undecided voters to choose one or the other option.

Interestingly, Latino Decisions found that when pressed, 47.4 percent of those undecided voters chose Republican, with only 28.5 percent choosing Democrat and another five percent saying they probably would not vote.

In general, though, a large Latino turnout is expected to favor Democrats, which some analysts are expecting might push Republicans to be more open to compromise on reforms like the DREAM Act following the election.

Monday, Reid, who is struggling to retain his Senate seat from the southwestern state of Nevada, told Spanish-language media he would once again bring the DREAM Act up for a vote during the lame-duck session of Congress that will follow the elections, before the newly-elected senators and representatives arrive and the voted-out ones leave.

If that effort fails, though, comprehensive national immigration reform is expected to be on hold for at least two years under the Republican-controlled Congress that is predicted to be voted in Tuesday.