Republican Playbook on Immigration Debate Long on Emotions, Short on Facts

Senate Republicans have “thoughtfully’ provided immigration advocates with their strategy for opposing immigration reform in 2010, courtesy of a letter sent to Secretary Napolitano protesting her recent statements that immigration reform is both necessary for DHS to do its job and good for the economy. The letter, signed by twelve Republicans— including Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Charles Grassley of Iowa, and Jeff Sessions of Alabama—was described by Sen. Hatch’s press statement as “taking Napolitano to task” for her remarks. It’s a playbook for the coming year, showing how to make points that are long on emotion and short on facts.

Plays include:

  1. Express mild outrage, disappointment and disbelief that legalization helps the economy. Pretend that immigration reform is all about enforcement, despite the warnings across the political spectrum that failing to get a handle on immigration undermines America’s economy, its security, and its role in world.
  2. Assert, with no facts, that legalizing twelve million people creates more competition for limited jobs. Ignore the growing evidence from all sides of the political spectrum that there is no one-to-one competition for jobs between native born workers and undocumented immigrants; that undocumented workers don’t steal American jobs; and that legalization improves the status of all workers by raising wages and working conditions for all. Ignore the business community who has been begging for reform to improve productivity and grow the economy. In short, ignore the facts.
  3. Demand that Napolitano “refrain” from even talking about legalization in this bad economy. Use this as a code for do nothing on immigration reform.
  4. Pivot to delay and stalling tactics. Criticize Obama administration for pulling regulations that sound tough (ignore that they were universally hated by business and labor).
  5. Call for more worksite raids in order to show solidarity with the American worker. Ignore the devastating impact of these raids, especially in your own state. Almost two years after the raid in Postville, Iowa, for example, the town and surrounding communities still have not recovered from the economic or emotional devastation brought on by the raid.
  6. Grudgingly acknowledge border improvements but conveniently forget that you said you would be happy to support immigration reform once the border was more secure.
  7. End on the stealing jobs note, painting yourselves as remaining vigilant that undocumented workers don’t take American jobs.

What’s particularly disturbing about this playbook, aside from its appalling lack of facts, is that Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah led the way. Hatch, the original sponsor of the DREAM Act, has often demonstrated a more nuanced approach to immigration than some of his colleagues. By ignoring facts and playing to America’s fears about the economy, Hatch and the other eleven Senators who signed this letter are doing their best to scapegoat immigrants and immigration for our economic woes.

It’s a dangerous game—even in places like Utah, where one might suppose that an anti-immigrant message will play well. As the IPC’s latest state fact sheet shows, however, Utah, like most everywhere else in the country, is coming to depend more and more on immigrants. Utah relies on immigration—legal and illegal—to help fuel its economy. For example, one in seven Utah residents are Latino or Asian. Immigrants comprised just over ten percent of Utah’s workforce in 2007—and 5.8% of the workforce was comprised of undocumented immigrants.

According to one study, if all of the undocumented workers in Utah were to suddenly disappear, the state would lose $2.3 billion dollars in expenditures, $1 billion dollars in economic output, and more than 14,000 jobs. Mind you, 14,000 jobs wouldn’t be available to unemployed Americans—14,000 jobs would simply disappear from the Utah economy creating a ripple effect that would spill over to all of the workers and citizens for whom Sen. Hatch has professed such concern.

An immigration playbook that preys on Americans fears is an insult to the nation’s intelligence. We need an actual debate about immigration, not more smoke and mirrors that try to trick people into opposing immigration reform out of fear. Sooner or later, voters in Utah, Iowa, Alabama and elsewhere will figure out they are being duped. For all of our sakes, let’s hope it’s sooner than later.

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  1. Vicenta Montoya says:

    I believe we should initiate a letter writing or phone campaign to each of this Senators protesting there statements and pointing out where they are blank wrong. Challenge the lies.

  2. Ted Gong says:

    Immigration restrictionists have always had a better sound bite than pro-immigration advocates in times of bad economies. The logic of studies such as cited on the Utah statistics don’t seem to matter until years after immigration laws have been implemented to the detriment and tragedy of individual migrants and to the very communities supposedly being protected. A letter writing and phone campaign is useful. The additional question is the message and from whom. There is value in examining the economic impact of immigration on the states and localities of each of the twelve senators and galvanizing vocal support from their local constituents rather than to rely on directly communicating with the Senators as a sole option. A local appeal would be hard to do however. The studies that conclude immigration is beneficial economically tend to be at the macro level and long-term in perspective. The negative studies tend to be at the county, school district and micro levels but those levels cover the immediate issues that make sense to ordinary folks.

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