With U.S. Presidential Campaigns under Way, Immigration Policy Likely to Remain Hot-Button Issue in 2008

Article excerpt

The conflict between the US and Mexico regarding US immigration policy is likely to worsen during 2008, as the topic becomes a major theme in the US presidential campaigns, particularly among Republican candidates. The issue has also taken on political overtones in Mexico, with critics accusing President Felipe Calderon's administration of being timid in the dispute. Calderon has strongly criticized a US crackdown on immigrants, but critics say the president is not backing up his words with actions. One US state, Arizona, implemented tough sanctions against employers who hire undocumented immigrants, effective Jan. 1, 2008. Even as the debate continues, the number of Mexicans who died attempting to cross the border increased during 2007.

Both major US parties favor tight enforcement at border

US immigration policies have been a central theme in electoral speeches leading up to the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire presidential primary in January. The issue is likely to remain in the public discourse in the coming months, with a large number of the US states holding caucuses or primaries in January and February.

The leading candidates for both parties continue to push for measures to tighten surveillance at the US-Mexico border, including improvements in infrastructure and an increase in Border Patrol agents to deter illegal immigration. There are some differences among Republicans and Democrats. Three leading Republicans, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, ex-Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, have endorsed the construction of the controversial fence along the US-Mexico border (see SourceMex, 2007-02-21, 2007-07-11, and 2007-10-10). Another Republican front-runner, Arizona Sen. John McCain, voted last year for a Senate measure to expand the wall along the border.

The Democratic candidates have mixed positions on the wall. Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois have come out in support of the border wall, while New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the only Latino candidate in the race, has come out strongly against erecting the barrier. Ex-North Carolina senator John Edwards has not specifically addressed the questions of the wall but has called for doubling Border Patrol agents at the border.

The one area where Democrats distinguish themselves from Republicans is their openness to legalizing the millions of undocumented immigrants already inside the US. "We want to have a situation in which those who are already here, are playing by the rules, are willing to pay a fine and go through a rigorous process should have a pathway to legalization," said Obama, which is a position similar to ones expressed by Clinton, Edwards, and Richardson.

In contrast, Republicans argue that any "amnesty" for undocumented immigrants would worsen the problem. "We have to enforce the law, welcoming legal immigration but ending illegal immigration," Romney said.

Most Democratic and Republican candidates have also supported creating a guest-worker program, one of the provisions included in a package proposed by the Senate in 2007 (see SourceMex, 2007-05-23).

While candidates from both parties favor tightening immigration policy, Republicans have taken the tougher stance in order to appeal to conservative constituencies. "The people who really care about cracking down on illegal immigration...are very intense and very vocal," said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster. "They're more likely to vote on that issue."

The hard line adopted by Republicans does not reflect the point of view of all of the Republican electorate. "But while Americans--especially Republicans--increasingly identify 'illegal immigration' as important to their vote, many polls suggest that the nation's views are more nuanced than the rhetoric of many candidates," said the New York-based daily newspaper Newsday. "For example, 54% of voters nationwide say they would support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, compared with 39% who are opposed, according to an October survey conducted by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. …