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The 2008 U.S. Presidential Candidates’ Stances On the Reform of Immigration Law

By Matteo Pretelli, Fulbright Scholar Researcher at the IHRC
The Latino vote will be very influential in the election for the next President of the United States. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/10/us/politics/10hispanics.html; http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/20080303/young-latino-voters-on-the-rise.htm; http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/07/us/07immig.html?scp=13&sq=immigration&st=nyt

In 2002 Hispanics outnumbered African-Americans and they have become the largest minority in the country, counting circa 32.8 million of people (60% with a Mexican ancestry). As the numbers of Latino voters increase, they are becoming an influential political lobby. Indeed, since the beginning of 2007 the National Association of Latino Elected Officials and the Hispanic Television Network Univision have promoted a national campaign to help Latinos obtain U.S. citizenship and vote in the next election. The reasons behind this strategy lay in the uncertain feelings many immigrants when faced with nativist feelings expressed in discussions of immigration. According to Stephanie Pillersdorf – speaker for Univision – after six months, this campaign is estimated to have increased the number of applications for citizenship in Los Angeles County by 146%.
In the presidential elections of 2004, President George W. Bush obtained 40% of Latino vote. http://www.pewtrusts.org/news_room_ektid34802.aspx ;http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/07/us/politics/07immig.html?ref=politics Yet, Federal agent raids against illegal immigrants and the enforcement of the Southern border soon lowered Latinos’ support of Bush.

Earning the Latino vote has become a main target for all Presidential candidates. Although it is not viewed by the public as important as arguments over Iraq and the war on terrorism, immigration law reform has become a priority in the political agenda. In 2006 and 2007 President Bush failed to gain Congressional support for new legislation. This political fiasco was only partially solved with the 26 October 2006 signing of the Border Secure Fence Act. This law authorizes the construction of a 700 mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border in order to deter individuals from illegally entering the United States.

In the debate over the reform of immigration law candidates have differed. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/19/us/politics/19candidates.html?scp=2&sq=immigration+presidential+candidates&st=nyt; http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9805EFD91038F933A25751C1A9619C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=2; http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/05/us/politics/05debate.html; http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/23/opinion/23brooks.html
Among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton, strenuously searched out the Latino support, and obtained the endorsement of Antonio R. Villaraigosa, mayor of Los Angeles and one of the most outstanding figures of the Hispanic community. Senator Clinton endorsed a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the United States who have a job, pay taxes, and have a clear command of English, whereas she proposed hard penalties to employers who exploit illegal workers. Yet, in Spring 2007 she opposed a bipartisan bill to reform immigration law because it did not include a measure for immigrant family reunification. These positions have mostly been shared by the two other main Democratic candidates, Illinois Senator Barack Obama and South Carolina Senator Johnny R. Edwards.
In the Republican field, candidates’ voices were less homogeneous. Arizona Senator John McCain maintained the most moderate stance. He has called illegal immigrants sons of God who compassionately deserve a chance in the United States. But, seeking votes among a conservative electorate, he has also emphasized the reinforcement of the Southern border over reform of immigration law.
Italian-American candidate Rudolph Giuliani was even more ambiguous. A moderate Republican when he was mayor of New York City, Giuliani adopted policies against the criminalization of illegal immigrants, who become eligible for the city’s educational and medical public services. In 1996, he even intervened to impede public officials and physicians from denouncing illegal immigrants. Giuliani welcomed to New York any immigrants - even if illegally in the United States – who wished to work hard. However, in search of conservative voters Giuliani too switched his former stance, emphasizing instead the need to fight illegal immigration through the introduction of identification card. Pointing out the importance of a “safe? border and recalling his mayoral policy of using policemen to end criminality in New York (“Zero Tolerance?), he endorsed an increasing allocation of Patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexican border to deter further illegal accesses.
Giuliani was harshly criticized by another Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who made the fight against illegal immigration a cornerstone of his presidential campaign. Despite talking positively of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in 2005, during his bid for Republican ticket he accused Giuliani of having transformed New York City into a illegality “sanctuary?. Romney then proposed severely curtailing Federal funds to cities, such as San Francisco, which avoid criminalizing immigrants without documents. Both Giuliani and Romney had criticized the bipartisan bill in 2007: the former considered it as a compromise, the latter remained adamantly against the idea of conceding temporary visas to individuals illegally residing in the United States.
Two minor Republican candidates, Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, had tough anti-immigrant stances as well. Thomson even proposed to curtail funds to cities and states which did not turnover illegal aliens to the Federal authorities and he requested to officially declare English as the national language. Huckabee advocated for curbing immigration from countries which sponsor terrorists. Furthermore, although during his governorship he provided support to illegal students, he proposed a national plan to expel illegal immigrants within 120 days