David Coates

Immigration: Recent Developments in 2010

Latest figures from the Office of Immigration Statistics show the total size of the undocumented population actually falling in 2009: down from its January 2007 peak of 11.8 million by 200,00 through 2008 and by a further 800,000 through 2009: to give a current total of 10.8 million. Those numbers do not, of course, prevent anti-immigrant voices claiming that illegal immigration is directly responsible for record unemployment levels among native-born workers, or to prevent look-warm supporters of immigration reform (including, it would appear, the present Administration) from pushing the issue of comprehensive immigration reform ever further down the political agenda.

In a State of the Union Address in January 2010 that gave a number of hostages to fortune (see Framing Errors in the State of the Union address, http://blogs.alternet.org/coatesd/), one key one was the President’s choice of words in relation to immigration, and the positioning of those words towards the very end of a speech preoccupied with job creation. He said this, just, a throwaway line taken straight out of the song book of Tom Tancredo and J.D. Hayworth “we should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system -– to secure our borders and enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nation.” This is hardly a resounding White House call for comprehensive immigration reform, the White House preferring to orchestrate a bipartisan initiative in the Senate by Senators Schuman and Graham.

So we are still waiting for the comprehensive immigration reform promised by Barack Obama the candidate and by Barack Obama the president, but which continues to slide down the political agenda. Frustration at the slow progress, and the administration’s procrastination, is growing among reform advocates; while within the Republican Party, more ‘liberal’ voices are now pushing for a softer line on immigration reform than that adopted by the Tancredo wing of the party. George W. Bush took 40% of the Hispanic vote in 2004. McCain only took 31% in 2008; and the difference cost him. Republicans like George P. Bush in Florida and Meg Whitman in California are now actively seeking to regain that lost Hispanic vote; and they are being helped by administration policy that is tough on deportation but slow on reform. 387,000 immigrants were deported in the 12 months following the Obama inauguration, with all the costs that created in broken families and shattered dreams. A poll released in March 2010 by the immigration advocacy group, America’s Voice, reported the Latino vote as still leaning Democratic but disappointed with the lack of progress on immigration reform. This “most important swing vote” as Frank Sharry of America’s voice put it, was key to “President Obama’s victory in swing states such as Colorado and Nevada” and could be again in November, in Senate races in Nevada and Florida and in governors races in states like California. According to the poll (as reported on alternet.otg on March 20th, 62 percent of Latino voters know a relative, friend or co-workers who is undocumented, and only 11 percent favor forced deportation.

On March 21, the very day the health care bill was passed into law, 200,000 people marched in Washington to demand comprehensive immigration reform. Among the speakers at that rally was Andy Stern, the President of the Service Employees International Union (signaling the support of organized labor) and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (whose vote for the health care reform had been won by a presidential promise of active leadership on immigration reform in 2010). A prerecorded video played at the march had the President saying “I pledge to do everything in my power to forge a bipartisan consensus this year. This won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight.”

So we must see. Bipartisanship didn’t work on health care. Given the present state of the Republican base, it is hard to see it working on immigration. But Schuman and Graham outlined their proposal in March, and Senator Leader Reid promised floor time for debate. The US Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO continue to spar publicly about the need for a temporary worker program in any legislation. Tea Party activists continue to rail against amnesty in any form; while the Center for American Progress – in an updated version of its earlier calculation of the cost of mass deportation) now estimates that cost (in 2008 dollars) at a staggering $285 billion (Marshall Fitz et al, The Costs of Mass Deportation, CAP March 2010). The Schuman-Graham plan has “four pillars: requiring biometric Social Security cards to ensure that illegal workers cannot get jobs; fulfilling and strengthening or commitments on border security and interior enforcement; creating a process for admitting temporary workers; and implementing a tough but fair path to legalization for those already here.” (the Senators, writing in The Washington Post, March 19, 2010)

The call for comprehensive immigration reform has been recently made again by, among others, the Center for American Progress (see its Seven Reasons to Push for Immigration Reform this Year, posted on their website January 22,2010; and their earlier –December 2009 – Immigration Reform Will Enhance Economic Recovery, written by Marshall Fitz and Angela Kelley). The case was also made in the following op-ed, written with Peter Siavelis and published in translation in Que Pasa, North Carolina’s major Spanish-language paper, in January 2010)

David Coates holds the Worrell Chair in Anglo-American Studies at Wake Forest University. He is the author of Answering Back: Liberal Responses to Conservative Arguments, New York: Continuum Books, 2010.

He writes here in a personal capacity.

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