Riding the Anti-Immigration Wave: The Short- and Long-Term Political Implications

Despite the mounting pressure (boycotts, legal challenges, protests) to repeal Arizona’s enforcement law (SB 1070), polls indicate that the majority of Americans support the law by almost two to one—and, at last count, as many as 17 other states are considering similar legislation. However, while it may seem advantageous for some in the GOP to use this anti-immigrant wave as political momentum for re-election, the long-term political impact may be larger and more harmful than they realize. Can the Republican Party (once the ‘Party of No,” then the “Party of Hell No” and now the “Party of Papers Please?”) really afford to further alienate the fastest-growing U.S. voting bloc—Latinos?

In a recent New York Times letter, the author draws a comparison between the Arizona’s enforcement law (SB 1070) and California’s 1994 anti-immigrant Proposition 187 (which was later found to be unconstitutional). Then Governor Pete Wilson supported Prop 187, which denied children of undocumented immigrants state-funded education and health programs. The author points out that California has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1992, and that Republicans won California in six of the previous seven presidential contests prior to 1992, and five of the seven most recent gubernatorial races. Coincidence?

“There are a lot of similarities between what’s happening in Arizona and what happened in California in 1994,” said Sergio Bendixen, a political pollster and consultant specializing in the Hispanic vote. “That made California a deep blue state,” or Democratic, “and Republicans are making the same mistake now trying to benefit on anti-immigration.”

It doesn’t take a political scientist or a pollster to understand what happens when you alienate such a large and growing swathe of the American electorate. Latinos—who not surprisingly oppose Arizona’s law (70% opposing, 27% supporting)—made up 7.4% of the electorate in 2008, which has roughly double in the last 20 years, and is expected to continue to grow.

The letter continues:

There is widespread resentment among Latinos that they will be singled out as a result of this law, despite the insistence of Arizona officials that racial profiling is impermissible … Previous and earlier surveys by Mr. Bendixen, the pollster, show that almost two in three Latino voters have either a family member or friend who is an undocumented worker …He says Hispanics resent the suggestion that immigrants are more prone to criminality, an allegation that is contradicted by the vast majority of academic studies and statistics.

Recent evidence of the Latino vote can be seen in places like Colorado, where Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet pulled ahead of GOP hopeful Jane Norton. According to Public Policy Polling, the shift is due to Hispanic voters:

Bennet went from leading Norton by 12 points with Hispanic voters to a 21 point advantage. That large shift in a Democratic direction among Hispanics mirrors what we saw in our Arizona Senate polling last month- Rodney Glassman went from trailing John McCain by 17 points with them in September to now holding a 17 point lead.

While Latinos’ cultural conservatism may overlap with Republicans’, it’s not likely that Latinos will forget 1) the Tea Party/Republican anti-immigrant rhetoric surrounding SB 1070; and 2) SB 1070 itself as well as ensuing copycat legislation. So, even though Republicans candidates who endorse SB 1070 (and similar legislation) might garner electoral support in the short-term, riding the anti-immigrant wave will more than likely drown them, and some in the Republican Party, out in the long-term.

Photo by Phil Gibbs.

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  1. Tony Leon says:

    The comparison to Wilson’s attempt to use illegal immigration as a re-election platform was obvious to me from the start. California Propositions 187 and 227 left a bad taste in the mouth of the sleeping giant known as the Latino voting population which awoke and has only proven itself a force to reckoned with. A few steps backward is inevitable as the desperate GOP jumps on the immigration bandwagon across different states. SB1070 is a ridiculous legislative measure that does not even address the systemic problems associated with our flawed immigration system which historically reflects self-serving revolving door policies based on prejudice, discrimination and capitalist greed. Likewise, attacking ELL teachers at this time is a clear attempt at institutionalized racism under the guise of precautionary economic strategies. Sociopolitical justice will prevail where needed.

  2. Elena RUIZ says:

    During the first week with Obama as our new president Oprah asked us, her viewers and audience, “What this moment means to you?”.

    I’m a 50 year old woman and I belong to a minority within 2 minorities: I‘m a gay illegal immigrant.

    I was born and grew up in a country where gay people are discriminated against in a very hidden way. Because of our European background, we think that we are very modern and open, so even when the discrimination is there, nobody would accept it. I think that’s the worst way of discrimination.

    I spent all my life alone. I always thought I was different or weird and it made me feel uncomfortable around other people but I didn’t know what was going on with me. At the same time, because I was in the closet, I was able to know what society thought about gay people. When I found out that I was gay I knew I had to stay in the closet for the rest of my life. I thought I’ll never be happy.

    But everything changed when I had the chance to come to the USA for my American Dream, which wasn’t money, it was love. Finally, I was in the land of freedom, I was in a country where rights are respected and where everybody has the same rights. Yes, I know, I was very naïve.

    The day came when my visa expired and I had to decide between staying in the USA as an illegal immigrant with my partner or go back to my country to be alone and discriminated against for the rest of my life.

    I spent the last 6 years living with the most wonderful partner and we plan to spend the rest of our life together.

    Today our life is very difficult, but we are happy. Because of the witch hunt against the illegal immigrants I couldn’t work for more than 2 years and my partner has to support me, which is very depressing. My partner lost her job and for a year we both survived with her little unemployment. Now she found a job but things are still very hard for us because I can‘t contribute, it doesn’t matter that we both have college degrees.

    Everything could be so much easier if I was straight because I could get married and my spouse would be my sponsor to became legal… but I’m gay. This situation is so ridiculous: if one of us had a sex change, we’d be able to get married and I’d be legal, but we are both women.

    Today, gay people can get married in my country even when the mentality didn’t change and they try to show the world how modern they are. Anyway, gay marriage is legal there and it was legal in Europe for more than 20 years but not in the USA.

    Because of all of that, this is what this moment meant to me: I was confident that our new President would allow us, gay people, to get married and/or illegal immigrants become legal. For the first time in my life I thought I’ll be equal… but now I’m not sure…

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