Going by the latest poll results, it’s pretty much clear who are going to be the two main candidates in this year’s US Presidential election – Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain. Interestingly, Obama has supported Immigration reforms and has taken a little more hard-line stance than the other democrats in this issue. Similarly, McCain has also supported Immigration reforms and taken a decidedly softer line than most republicans on the issue. It seems America prefers a candidate who is willing to take a middle way when it comes to Immigration Reforms. Now comes the question, if either wins, will Immigration Reforms be pushed forward or be lost in the political squabbles again, as it has been in the past?
Owing to President Bush’s last ditch effort to push through his Immigration Bill in the senate last year and the following political debate over this issue, the American voters have had ample time to cut through the political double talks and actually look at the issue in their own context. Exit polls, expert opinions and general common sense points that Comprehensive Immigration reform has taken too much of a front stage in this election to be pushed back into the closet again. Moreover, as a large percentage of the American voting population is immigrants (around 12% now) and the figure is slated to rise, it will be prudent for the next President to pursue this agenda or risk losing out on re-election.
The result? U.S. citizens want a comprehensive solution to the Immigration issue very soon. Moreover, in a definite shift away from the post 9/11 sentiments, American people seem to reject a entirely hard-liner solution to this issue involving deportation and sealed borders and rather prefer that our leaders come up with a better system for legalizing the cross border immigration and the million illegal immigrants in the country already. However, the American people are still very much against granting any kind of “Amnesty” to these illegal aliens and strategizing a path to citizenship for these migrants is going to be one of the biggest challenges for the future President.
Another big revelation of the 2009 Presidential election has been the Latino vote on this issue. Even though Immigration as an issue ranks only fourth for the Latino voters in America, this large ethnic group has strongly voted on this issue so far this year. Whether it was due to the anti-immigration rallies held last year or the effect of illegal immigration on this community in general, the Latino voters show a definite favor towards legalizing the undocumented workers and giving them a path to citizenship.
Coming back to our candidates, as far the parties are concerned, exit polls have shown that voters feel unfavorably towards the Republican’s following last years Immigration Bill debacle. There is a definite chance that the democratic candidate will cash in on this. Senator Obama, in his floor statement during the Immigration debate last year, put forward his own Immigration history (his father was an immigrant from Kenya) and argued that he supports a stronger border security combined with providing the illegal immigrants a path to earned citizenship.
Moreover, he also argued that the way to counteract illegal immigration is by bolstering legal immigration through guest worker systems. He has proposed higher penalties for defaulting employers and a higher budget for border control. His broad minded approach seems to have garnered him huge support so far.
However, McCain has dangled his own pro-immigration favors, mainly to the legal Immigrants, many of who will be getting their citizenship by the time to vote in the 2009 election. However, faced with criticism from his own party regarding his stand on immigration as providing amnesty to law breakers, McCain is now leaning more and more towards tougher border control in an effort to gain Republican votes. He is walking a tight rope, as he risks losing the Hispanic vote which can be a decider in the upcoming election. If he wins, it’s not clear whether he will stick to his earlier support for comprehensive immigration reform or push for hard-line measures like border security and deportation.
However, as parties go, neither has a very good track record in following through with their promises after the election on this issue. Last time the Immigration issue was discussed is back in 1980s, when U.S. had around 4 million illegal Immigrants. Now, the country estimates there are about 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, not paying taxes and not able to access any federal benefits either – which leaves both parties wanting. A large section of voters feel that once the candidate has won the election, Immigration reforms will be put through the old debates again and the result may be more about pleasing the senators then actually helping the immigration situation in the country, which many feel are getting out of hand.
Predictions of recession are already rife in American market and the possible outcome is going to be domestic job losses. In the past, this has always led to outcry about illegal immigrants taking over US jobs. But this year, voters seem to look at this issue through the eye of market experts – lack of man power means lack of competitive power in the global economy. Hence, money is better spent in making illegal immigrants into legal tax payers, contributing to the countries economic stability. But will the next President look at it this way? The jury is still out on this issue.
The war budget can also play a big part in immigration reforms. If Senator Obama goes through as a president and follows through his promise to withdraw troops from Iraq, will he then divert the money into Immigration reforms? In case of a recession though, the war budget is likely to get the axe and the decision to withdraw troops may not be an option but rather a necessity.
What will happen if Immigration Reform is not taken up as an issue immediately? The likeliest scenario is that the candidate will lose credibility with the Immigrant voters, which may pan out badly for a re-election scenario. Another scenario is that legal Immigration will see a slow but definite downward spiral as a long and difficult immigration process will lose out to the improving living conditions in the Immigrant’s home countries, tempting many skilled aliens back. Of course, America in the meantime will continue to receive a large number of undocumented and illegal aliens, and the cost of repairing the system will continue to grow proportionally.