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Will Immigration Reform Bills Bring Voters to the Polls?

Will Immigration Reform Bills Bring Voters to the Polls?

Riding the media blitz that followed the DREAM Act’s recent defeat, Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) unveiled their own comprehensive immigration reform bills just before Congress adjourned last week. The bills are enforcement-heavy, party-line bills that were immediately referred to committee, where they are expected to languish for some time.

Few expect much to come of either bill, given their untimely introduction and the broad failure of previous immigration reform efforts. Rather, these bills are perceived as last-ditch attempts to score political points before midterm elections. The Menendez bill could net support for Democrats from an increasingly unmotivated Latino electorate, conversely, Hatch’s bill reinforces the hard-line immigration stance so popular among Republican voters.

The Menendez Bill: Two steps forward, one step back

While the Menendez bill was introduced with the strong support of major immigration reform groups like the National Immigration Forum, others regard it as a disappointing mixed bag of talking points.

The bill has several high points, like its inclusion of AgJOBS and the DREAM Act, but is heavy on the kinds of federal immigration enforcement that immigrant rights advocates abhor. As Prerna Lal at writes:

[The bill] starts with border enforcement, followed by interior enforcement, then worksite enforcement, before actually reforming the system and moving forward with the legalization of undocumented immigrants. […] The biggest downfall of the bill is probably that it does not do much to address the ever-growing immigrant detention complex and, instead, mandates a system that criminalizes immigrants.

Likening it to the failed Schumer-Graham bill of last spring, Lal notes that the bill’s prioritization of enforcement isn’t bi-partisan so much as a slap in the face of those who have fought hardest for comprehensive reform. Nevertheless, the Menendez Bill succeeds where its Democratic predecessor – the Guttieriez bill – failed: It provides a path to citizenship for undocumented partners of LGBT citizens.

While it remains unlikely that the bill will ever become law as is, Menendez introduced it into Senate to remind Latinos which party is on their side this election season.

The Hatch Bill: Revving up the base with more of the same

Orrin Hatch admits even more frankly that he only introduced an immigration bill because he wanted to stir up his base. In his own words, the bill is “just for show.”

Accordingly — and as Elise Foley of the Washington Independent notes – his bill doesn’t do much of anything except reinforce existing immigration laws and practices:

Immigration advocacy groups were critical of the bill, calling it “dog whistle rhetoric” to gin up his base. “His bill doesn’t offer serious solutions,” Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum said in a press release. “Instead it duplicates work already being done on enforcement and won’t solve the crisis it purports to address.”

The bill does propose boosting enforcement in some areas — for instance, requiring all law enforcement agencies to deputize their officers as immigration agents — but on the whole appears to be little more than the political ploy Hatch says it is.

Where are the Latino voters?

Whether either bill will have much of an impact on voters, however, is up for debate. A new report released by the Pew Hispanic Center reveals that, while Latino voters still largely identify as Democrats, they are much less motivated to cast their ballots this year than they have been in the past two elections. The finding is a surprising one, as reform advocates have been working hard to galvanize the Latino constituency against increasing anti-immigrant sentiment.

But weak voter motivation may have less to do with politics and more to do with the pressures accompanying a bad economy. As I wrote for Campus Progress, populations that were disproportionately hurt by the recession seem to have less overall interest in voting this November.

In particular, Latino voters with close ties to undocumented workers are experiencing some of the worst voter fallout from the recession and, under the circumstances, are becoming politically disaffected despite the highly politicized immigration debate.

Rather than motivating the bulk of Latino voters, all of the controversy surrounding anti-immigrant sentiment and policies are instead fomenting an agitated conservative base. At ColorLines, Jamilah King astutely notes that, “while Democrats had hoped incendiary anti-immigrant legislation like SB 1070 would encourage voters to come out against Republicans in protest, it seems that the opposite is happening.”

Instead, controversy surrounding SB 1070 and other measures are generating strong support among conservatives. Maricopa County, AZ Sheriff Joe Arpaio, once the figurehead of immigration enforcement in the U.S., is now proclaiming himself to be the “poster boy” of immigration as he tours the country endorsing a slew of radical conservative candidates.

There they are!

Nevertheless, reform advocates are optimistic about both the power and the will of the Latino electorate.

According to Valerie Fernandez at New America Media, organizers are registering record numbers of Latinos this year. In Arizona, where voter registration closed on Monday, a coalition of ten groups claims to have registered 22,000 new voters. It’s a remarkable accomplishment. Latino voters make up only 15 percent of all registered voters in Arizona, despite the fact that Latinos comprise 30 percent of the state’s population. 22,000 new voters could effectively double the number of Latinos voting in the state, and may significantly impact the election’s outcome.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint.


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photo credit: thanks to Theresa Thompson via flickr
by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

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5:28AM PDT on Oct 15, 2010

I'm very much for full participation in the political process, but don't agree with the author's notion that "Latinos" (a broad swath you're cutting there--across cultures, countries of origin, education levels and class groups) in particular should be concerned about an immigration bill. We all should.

12:06PM PDT on Oct 12, 2010

"Does Reform mean they will start enforcing??"

Good sense of humor there Phil!

The illegal alien rights groups are already complaining about the proposed enforcement. There is no doubt that if this thing were to pass, the enforcement would be instantly gutted.

Remember 1986! NO AMNESTY!

7:41AM PDT on Oct 12, 2010

Does Reform mean they will start enforcing??

7:46PM PDT on Oct 11, 2010

Americans will and want to do the jobs that illegals do IF paid a LIVING WAGE .
Hey government ...go after the employers and problem solved.

7:43PM PDT on Oct 11, 2010

We do not have enough jobs for our own citizens .It is insane to even consider an amnesty now .

3:27PM PDT on Oct 11, 2010

Between the Dems with their "its ok to break laws" and some of the Repubs "no more immigration" extremes, the problem is only getting worse.

The DREAM Act was political theater, of course it was Dem political theater so that is not an important point. Hatch doing some of the same however really riles you up, why?

Simply because of those who sponsored it of course. Sadly this site and others seem to think Latinos/Hispanics are a monolithic voting bloc like blacks. Luckily that is not the truth so why should one think they are likely to get fired up over the issue as it is now presented by the Dems? Screaming racism doesn't work as well with Latinos as anyone with any familiarity with them might tell you if you weren't so studiously trying to force the issue into your political template.

Americans are not hot to approve ANYTHING that smacks of amnesty, no matter what Dems call it. Repubs know that and are loving it every time Dems call the issue racist and try the same old forgiveness, small fine for citizenship pablum.

I don't know when either party will grow up on this issue. I do know the Dems are playing right into the Repubs hands though with such attempts. I just don't see any rush by serious folks on the issue at all, just the normal whining like we see here.

1:29PM PDT on Oct 11, 2010

"The bill has several high points, like its inclusion of AgJOBS and the DREAM Act, but is heavy on the kinds of federal immigration enforcement that immigrant rights advocates abhor. As Prerna Lal at writes:

[The bill] starts with border enforcement, followed by interior enforcement, then worksite enforcement, before actually reforming the system and moving forward with the legalization of undocumented immigrants. […] The biggest downfall of the bill is probably that it does not do much to address the ever-growing immigrant detention complex and, instead, mandates a system that criminalizes immigrants."


"Lal notes that the bill's prioritization of enforcement isn't bi-partisan so much as a slap in the face of those who have fought hardest for comprehensive reform."

Interpretation: They get 12-20 MILLION people their amnesty, and they are already bitching about the enforcement provision in the bill.

You can bet that if this bill passes, there will be no enforcement just like the 1986 amnesty. Killing the enforcement provisions will be even easier with 12-20 MILLION new Latino voters that think that the border should be meaningless. Bye Bye America!

12:24PM PDT on Oct 11, 2010

It's VERY simple ---------------
IF you crossed our borders illegally--YOU BROKE OUR LAWS.

IF you came here through legal channels and have followed our rules and NOT broken any of our laws---WELCOME !

IF I come to your country , sneak across your border , work and not pay taxes to your government ---- MY ASS WOULD BE IN JAIL AND THE KEY WOULD BE THROWN AWAY!

DO it legally or don't do it at all.

8:08AM PDT on Oct 11, 2010

i think it will bring out more voters

6:49PM PDT on Oct 10, 2010

Here we are again, talking about "immigrants"!

Why do "immigrants" need "immigration reform"?

They're ALREADY here - they came legally - welcome to America, we hope you'll be very happy here!

Do these bleeding heart bozos that try to confuse us on the subject of LEGAL immigrants versus ILLEGAL aliens really think we're stupid?

This must be the gazillionth time I'm saying this - we don't need immigration reform. We have perfectly good immigration laws. If you qualify to come here, and you follow the correct procedure, you'll get here just fine.

But don't break our law by walking across our borders or sneaking in some other way, and then expect us to give you any consideration whatsoever.

And to the Care2 authors - QUIT ALREADY! Learn the difference between legal immigrants and ILLEGAL ALIENS, between LAW-ABIDING and LAW-BREAKING.

We're NOT going to make it any easier for all and sundry to come here for any little reason to place further burdens on our economy and our way of life.

We're also NOT going to forgive those that broke our laws by coming here illegally, and we will ABSOLUTELY not forgive those that continued to break our laws and are filling our prisons to the brim.

You want us to give them amnesty and citizenship?

What a slap in the face to those that worked hard to get here LEGALLY!

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