While not thrilled with the prospect of an Obama presidency, the restrictionists don’t necessarily fear it. Some, including NumbersUSA and the Federation for American Immigration Reform, already are trying to leverage Obama’s promises to protect workers and create jobs During the campaign the anti-immigration groups despaired over the prospect of either McCain or Obama. But now the two leading restrictionist policy institutes, NumbersUSA and FAIR, point encouragingly to Obama’s strong positions in favor of employee verification and employer enforcement. They have also been confident that the aggressive enforcement regime instituted by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will persist into the next administration, especially given the way that many Democratic congressional representatives have supported increases in the department’s immigration-enforcement and border-control budget. However, it’s the country’s economic downspin that gives the restrictionists the most confidence that liberal immigration reform is dead for the foreseeable future. FAIR’s Post-Election Framing The Federation for American Immigration Reform immediately jumped into the post-election debate over immigration reform with media releases, polls, and new policy analysis about the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform. Rather than focusing on how pro-immigration and anti-immigration candidates did on Nov. 4, FAIR entered the post-election debate with a new framing for its anti-immigration message. According to FAIR, “The results of yesterday's elections are a clear rejection by the voters of government of, by, and for, special interests, and policies that have brought this nation to the brink of an economic crisis.” While pro-immigration groups like the National Immigration Forum and America’s Voice were citing the heavy Latino and immigrant turnout for the Democrats as evidence that the time has come for liberal immigration reform, FAIR posited that Americans were mostly concerned about their jobs and economic stability and, as such, would not support what “failed special interest-driven policies” like immigration. FAIR asserted that “Americans are fed-up with immigration policies that have placed the interests of immigration lawbreakers, cheap labor employers, and ethnic power brokers ahead of those of struggling workers and taxpayers.”
Casting aside Obama’s promise to enact comprehensive reform including legalization in his first term, FAIR’s president Dan Stein zeroed in on Obama’s commitments to create jobs and to back “change that voters can believe in.” Instead of focusing on the cultural, national security, environmental or “rule of law” arguments that FAIR has previously favored, Stein argued that FAIR’s position in favor of restricted immigration was an economic, worker-centered stance.
"To the extent that Senator Obama received a mandate,” said Stein, “it is to put government back on the side of working Americans. A critical component of an economic recovery plan for struggling workers must be to set rational limits on immigration, enforce laws against employing illegal aliens, and resist calls for more guest workers.”
Rather than situate FAIR as a negative force opposing comprehensive immigration reform, Stein called for Obama to “put forward a coherent immigration policy that recognizes that reforming immigration is critical to getting our economy back on track.” Typical of the restrictionists that see legal and illegal immigration as a causal factor for most any problem – from climate change to the subprime crisis -- FAIR now regards restrictionism as central to economic recovery.
"At a time when the economy is faltering, when nearly a million Americans have lost their jobs this year alone, when federal, state and local governments are facing unprecedented deficits, President Obama will need to institute and enforce immigration policies that do not add to these problems.”
Like the pro-immigration forces, the anti-immigration camp brandishes polls to back its statements. In making its new pitch for a conservative reform package that would restrict both legal and illegal immigration, FAIR points to exit polls and a post-election poll it commissioned to support its contention that liberal immigration reform can’t count on widespread public support. Exit polls commissioned by FAIR show that only a third (32%) of surveyed voters voting for Obama said they supported legalization of illegal immigrants, while six in ten of those who voted for McCain opposed “amnesty.”
FAIR contends that “by wide margins Americans believe that their interests would best be served by overall reductions in the flow of immigration, and enforcement of immigration laws in a way that sends a clear message to both illegal aliens and their employers that the interests of law-abiding, hard-working Americans is paramount.”
To support this assertion, FAIR points to a post-election poll (Nov.5-6) conducted by Zogby International of actual voters that found, according to FAIR, that “a decisive majority of voters believe that an illegal alien amnesty would "further harm the interests of struggling American workers.”
Obviously formulated to confirm FAIR’s own positions, some of the survey questions seemed to prompt restrictionist answers from respondents. Citing the survey results, FAIR reported that “57% of voters stated that amnesty would harm American workers and further strain public resources, while only 26% believe amnesty would aid economic recovery and ease public burdens.” While FAIR and other immigration institutes don’t dispute the widespread conclusion about Latino turnout for Democrats, they question the assessment that Latinos favor liberal immigration reform. As Stein noted in another post-election release, “Arizonans overwhelmingly rejected a deceptive ballot measure which would have made it easier for businesses to hire illegal aliens. Proposition 202 was rejected by 60% of Arizona voters, including 56% of Latino voters in the state.” Immigration proponents argue that the unprecedented turnout of Latino and immigrant voters – about 10 million – and their overwhelming support for Obama – 67% of Latinos – demonstrated the salience of the immigration issue for a large constituency angered by the immigration crackdown. What’s more, this expanding constituency proved key to moving four swing states – Nevada, Colorado, Florida, and New Mexico – into the Democratic column. But FAIR counters that exit polling, including an Univision/Zogby survey, showed that the economy was the number-one voting priority for the majority (54%) of Latino voters, while only 11 cited immigration reform as their top concern. "All voters, including Latinos, turned to the Democrats last Tuesday in the hope that they will get our economy back on track. Notwithstanding a massive spin effort on the part of the ethnic advocacy network, the electorate, including Latinos, did not vote for amnesty and more immigration. In fact, the polls show that voters believe amnesty would be an impediment to economic recovery and putting American back to work," Stein concluded.
Instead of bemoaning the victory of Democratic candidate committed to liberal immigration reform, FAIR’s Stein said they looked “forward to working with his new administration to bring long overdue changes to an immigration policy that, along with many other policies of the past eight years, were soundly rejected by voters across the country and across the political spectrum.”
Clearly, many voters went to the polls on Nov. 4 concerned mainly about the nose-diving economy, their jobs, and their savings. But immigration proponents are certainly well-founded in their conclusion that the widespread rejection of the Republican Party included, especially among Latinos and immigrant citizens, concerns about the anti-immigrant policies embraced by many in the party.
But as immigration advocates gear up for another round in the immigration debate, they would do well to follow the example of their restrictionist counterparts who are framing their message not in terms of political parties, ethnicities, or status as “New Americans” but in terms of what’s good for the economy and all workers, not just immigrants. And in their call for legalization of 11 million immigrants living and working illegally in the country, supporters of liberal reform shouldn’t shy away from injecting values into the debate.
The economic bottom line of immigration reform can’t be ignored, but reform advocates should also be talking about what’s fair and just. Values played a major role in the Obama victory, and they also belong in the immigration debate.
Center for Immigration Studies
Immigration Reform Caucus
Border Security and Enforcement First Caucus
Immigration Law Reform Institute