As people head to the polls tomorrow, they will consider a wide range of important issues—the economy, health care, unemployment, deficit spending, tax cuts and immigration to name a few. Not all voters are single issue voters, nor will people vote strictly down party or demographic lines. But whomever people vote for, it is critically important that they consider their issues not only as a reflection of where we are now, but where we want to be down the road, using present day indicators as road signs. Immigration, as of late, has been wielded like a political weapon—used in campaign attack ads and across the media to slander opponents and set the political stage for what’s to come (read: more angry rhetoric and no action). As the Immigration Policy Center noted in its recent report on the New American voter, one in ten registered voters is likely to have a personal connection to immigration that may very well affect their views on candidates.

But it would be a mistake for other voters—those whose immigrant history is three, four, or even more generations removed—to assume that immigration doesn’t have an affect on their lives as well. Our broken immigration system increasingly affects all aspects of American life, particularly our economic growth, national security, and future standing in the world. The debate over SB 1070 in Arizona has shown us that immigration has also become a growing issue among civil rights activists, especially since questions of racial profiling and discriminatory treatment became central to the debate. The rise in calls to repeal birthright citizenship would, if this movement takes hold, dramatically shift our understanding of who is a citizen—meaning that the immigration issue ultimately affects every voter, New American or otherwise.

This is not a partisan assessment. Members of both parties use the immigration issue as a tool to curry favor with particular constituencies. It was Democrats, after all, who brought a $600 million emergency border security package to the Senate floor despite questions over its efficacy. And Republicans, in the traditional role as party out of power, have relentlessly dogged Secretary Napolitano on her immigration enforcement provisions.

Thus, where voting is concerned, it really isn’t an either/or kind of issue. Politicians on both sides of the aisle will continue to play politics with this issue until the American public holds them accountable. We need immigration policies that address the complex and interconnected problems inherent in immigration. But we also need people to stay engaged on the issue, to move the ball forward and actually get to a place where we can have a robust debate with all sides weighing in. Whomever people choose on Tuesday, they need to make those choices. Improving our immigration system starts with a simple step—vote.

Photo by neonbubble.