Immigrants and Election Year Politics

Donna R. Gabaccia, Director, Immigration History Research Center

When it comes to elections, immigrants have opinions too. Over one third of the foreign-born in the U.S. are citizens. How does this election year look to them?

For one thing, the numbers of immigrants choosing citizenship has increased sharply in the past year in places as diverse as Minnesota and Arizona.

Immigrants have many reasons for becoming citizens. Some want to sponsor the immigration of relatives. Others want to act now in order to avoid paying fees for naturalization that have increased rapidly in the past few years. Others want to share the citizenship of their children or to express loyalty to their new home.

At least some recently naturalized citizens also admit that an important motive has been the desire to participate in American politics and especially to express their choices in the upcoming presidential election. Historically, naturalizations have increased during presidential election years.

Newly naturalized Latino voters are particularly concerned about immigration policy in this year’s elections. Recent news reports quote immigrants as feeling upset by local and federal campaigns that target illegal immigrants: they maintain that too often the result of these campaigns is hostility expressed against all Spanish-speakers or against any person who “looks Mexican,? regardless of legal status or citizenship.

Even more than other Americans, newly naturalized citizens pay attention to candidates’ positions on immigration policy. Some claim not to find much difference between front-runners Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain, all of whom favor some version of the immigration reform bill that failed to gain Congressional approval in 2007.,0,50671.story Still, Hillary Clinton seems to be doing particularly well in attracting the votes of Hispanic voters, both old and new:

Overall, too, those candidates who focused most intensively on the threat to Americans of illegal immigration have not done well in this primary season. Cuban-Americans in Florida were especially vigorous in supporting for McCain over Mitt Romney, who ended his presidential campaign last week.

Ironically, it appears that newly naturalized immigrant voters are in other ways not all that different from longer-time American citizens. Polls in 2007 showed that between half and four-fifths of all American citizen support the creation of a pathway to legalization for undocumented workers.

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This page contains a single entry by herna130 published on February 11, 2008 5:15 PM.

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