By Chris Cronin
Despite the near-continuous mudslinging that defines this electoral cycle, immigration has been sidelined. While both candidates have mainly focused on the economy, the issue of our borders has been largely out of the press. This is somewhat surprising for several reasons. Firstly, while President Barack Obama has, like Senator Mitt Romney, made the economy the major focus of his campaign, he has been willing to tackle immigration as well.
President Obama put into place a minor but still important reform earlier this year through executive order. The order instituted a key piece of the DREAM Act, a comprehensive immigration reform package that failed to pass despite bipartisan support in Congress. Obama’s reform delayed the deportation of undocumented immigrants who met certain criteria, including having been brought to America as a child, having an education or serving in the military, and not having a serious criminal record. This is crucial because it gives skilled illegal immigrants who were brought here without their consent a better chance to become full citizens.
President Obama has also recently campaigned on this issue. On Sept. 20th, he stated in a TV interview that he believed that his biggest failure as president was not instituting immigration reform, again underscoring his campaign’s willingness to discuss the issue.
But of course, in an election year, little happens without some sort of political angle, and there is a definite political angle here for President Obama. Immigration continues to be the number one issue with Latinos, the largest minority in the country and a massive and powerful voter bloc. Both candidates attempted to woo the Latino population. The aforementioned TV interview with President Obama was in fact given to a Spanish-language TV network, and there is little doubt that President Obama chose to focus on immigration in order to woo votes. He is not alone; on Sept. 17th, Romney gave a speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce where he promised to “fix” immigration.
Unlike President Obama, however, Romney has not taken or even detailed specific actions to fix the problem. This is partly due to the perpetual tight rope walk Republican candidates must face, where they must cater to an increasingly radical base while wooing moderate independents. After all, Rick Perry, a candidate so conservative that he once declared in an ad that President Obama was fighting a war on religion, was seriously damaged during the primaries for what was seen as a “soft” immigration stance. President Obama faces a similar tightrope with his own (less radical) base, in this case trying to please unions who believe immigrants are taking jobs from American citizens.
But throughout all of this political maneuvering and tightrope-walking, two things are happening. One is that even as both candidates are talking about reasonable immigration reform, the situation on the Mexican border is seriously deteriorating.
The ongoing drug war in Mexico is causing severe damage to cross-border trade and encouraging more and more Mexicans to flee, but the border has been increasingly militarized. For instance, Border Patrol recently began deploying drones identical to those used to spy on combat zones.
Secondly, immigration reform, besides Obama’s small but significant step, is not happening. Immigrants still face intolerable waiting times for a Green Card. Arizona and Alabama now have extremely right-wing immigration laws which actively discriminate against Latinos, and the DREAM Act, the best hope for any sort of reform, is stalled in Congress. Is it any wonder that Latino voters, increasingly courted by both parties, feel disenfranchised by both?
President Obama and Romney have both recently reached out to Latino voters. This is a step in the right direction. But until we bring immigration back into the national discussion, the situation is only going to get worse.