What do the economy, health care, and foreign policy have in common?

They are all topics that are related to a critical issue that was not discussed in the election 2008 debates: immigration. Everyone from the Latino community to immigration advocates to probing journalists have been eagerly awaiting to hear more about what the two candidates plan to do about the 12 million undocumented people living in the United States. To date, they’ve heard very little.

Our immigration problem isn’t going to disappear just by not talking about it. As Barack Obama and John McCain were preparing for their debate last night, 300 workers were rounded up in an immigration raid at a chicken processing plant in South Carolina. In fact, as the two candidates were taking shots at one another, we can guess about 100 children in South Carolina–both citizens and non-citizens–were still left stranded, not knowing where their parents were or when they would see them again.

Obama and McCain haven’t been afraid to talk about who is to blame for the demise of 2007’s immigration bill. In dueling Spanish-language ads, McCain has unfairly accused Obama of trying to block the major immigration bill that he supported. Obama retaliated with an equally questionable ad tying McCain to immigration hardliners like Rush Limbaugh who McCain has generally stood up to. Yet amidst all of this finger-pointing, neither candidate has adequately addressed the bottom line: what would they do, as president, to fix our broken immigration system?

When it comes to substantive details, Obama and McCain have a lot of questions to answer, like:

  • What is realistic and what should be done about the 12 million immigrants here in the U.S. without papers?
  • What should be done with the employers who knowingly hire unauthorized workers, take advantage of them, and undercut their competitors: what should be done about them?
  • Opponents of reform say anything that provides legal status to those here illegally is amnesty: how do you define amnesty? Do you support amnesty? If not, what do you support?
  • How do you make sure that we actually solve the problem rather than pass reforms that perpetuate the problem and lead to another 12 million coming in illegally in the future?

After flip-flopping back and forth on immigration, McCain especially has some serious questions to answer on where he really stands and whether he will remain loyal to the principles of the immigration reform bill he fought so hard for in 2006 and then voted in favor of again in 2007, or if he will submit to the anti-immigrant forces that are pulling him away from his fundamental values.

With anti-immigrant fervor plaguing Latinos–both citizen and non-citizen–immigration has become one of the most pressing issues for Latino voters. That’s why you’d think that the two camps would be eager to win over the unprecedented number of Latinos prepared to vote for the first time in battle ground states by sharing their solutions to our immigration system breakdown and not tip-toeing past the 12 million elephants in the room.

Photo by Barack Obama on flickr.
NOTE: this story first appeared in the Huffington Post.