Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Illegal Immigration – A complicated Wedge Issue

Illegal immigration fell off the politically active issue list since Congress failed to pass the Kennedy-McCain immigration legislation of 2007.

But, while the issue dropped from view, it didn’t disappear from public conscience. And, the Arizona law activated the nascent passion and political polarization among the electorate and elected officials.

Colorado candidates for governor rapidly took predicable positions with Scott McInnis endorsing it and John Hickenlooper arguing it was a bad idea. Colorado last dealt with the issue in 2005-06 with large scale demonstrations, a threatened ballot issue and state legislation to tighten immigration enforcement.

A quick Gallup poll conducted last week showed a very high percent of Americans claim to have heard of the Arizona illegal immigration law. Among informed people, 51 percent favor the law. Fifty-six percent of Democrats oppose it, but 75 percent of Republicans support it.

Interestingly, the intense interest in the Arizona law happens at a time illegal immigration has declined due to the poor economy and stepped-up boarder enforcement. But, in Arizona, high-profile crime, talk shows and political primaries have kept the issue on the front burner.

A few political observations:

• Washington once again is receiving its unusual approbation for failure to address the issue.

• Democrats, already in trouble in the 2010 election, are anxious not to open a second front of opposition.

• Republicans are at risk with the issue too. Not only does the 1994 Republican debacle in California loom large in Republican memory, but Tom Tancredo’s and Bob Beauprez’s use of the issue in 2006 and 2008 were unfruitful.

• Arizona is a frontline state where illegal immigration is dominating Senator McCain’s and Governor Brewer’s efforts at re-election and moving them strongly to the right on the issue.

• The enforcement side of the issue is dominant and efforts to deal with the 10 million or more undocumented immigrants in the country given short shift.

• Interestingly, the grassroots supporters against illegal immigration may preempt the Tea Party for media and public attention. Although there is some overlap among conservative activists, the issue attracts different core constituencies, for example, fiscal and social issue activists.

(See Denver Post article)

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