Weekly Diaspora: Will Immigration Reform Bills Bring Voters to the Polls?

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Riding the media blitz that followed the DREAM Act’s recent defeat, Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) unveiled their own comprehensive immigration reform bills just before Congress adjourned last week. The bills are enforcement-heavy, party-line bills that were immediately referred to committee, where they are expected to languish for some time.

Few expect much to come of either bill, given their untimely introduction and the broad failure of previous immigration reform efforts. Rather, these bills are perceived as last-ditch attempts to score political points before midterm elections. The Menendez bill could net support for Democrats from an increasingly unmotivated Latino electorate, conversely, Hatch’s bill reinforces the hard-line immigration stance so popular among Republican voters.

The Menendez Bill: Two steps forward, one step back

While the Menendez bill was introduced with the strong support of major immigration reform groups like the National Immigration Forum, others regard it as a disappointing mixed bag of talking points.

The bill has several high points, like its inclusion of AgJOBS and the DREAM Act, but is heavy on the kinds of federal immigration enforcement that immigrant rights advocates abhor. As Prerna Lal at Change.org writes:

[The bill] starts with border enforcement, followed by interior enforcement, then worksite enforcement, before actually reforming the system and moving forward with the legalization of undocumented immigrants. […] The biggest downfall of the bill is probably that it does not do much to address the ever-growing immigrant detention complex and, instead, mandates a system that criminalizes immigrants.

Likening it to the failed Schumer-Graham bill of last spring, Lal notes that the bill’s prioritization of enforcement isn’t bi-partisan so much as a slap in the face of those who have fought hardest for comprehensive reform. Nevertheless, the Menendez Bill succeeds where its Democratic predecessor—the Guttieriez bill—failed: It provides a path to citizenship for undocumented partners of LGBT citizens.

While it remains unlikely that the bill will ever become law as is, Menendez introduced it into Senate to remind Latinos which party is on their side this election season.

The Hatch Bill: Revving up the base with more of the same

Orrin Hatch admits even more frankly that he only introduced an immigration bill because he wanted to stir up his base. In his own words, the bill is “just for show.”

Accordingly—and as Elise Foley of the Washington Independent notes—his bill doesn’t do much of anything except reinforce existing immigration laws and practices:

Immigration advocacy groups were critical of the bill, calling it “dog whistle rhetoric” to gin up his base. “His bill doesn’t offer serious solutions,” Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum said in a press release. “Instead it duplicates work already being done on enforcement and won’t solve the crisis it purports to address.”

The bill does propose boosting enforcement in some areas—for instance, requiring all law enforcement agencies to deputize their officers as immigration agents—but on the whole appears to be little more than the political ploy Hatch says it is.

Where are the Latino voters?

Whether either bill will have much of an impact on voters, however, is up for debate. A new report released by the Pew Hispanic Center reveals that, while Latino voters still largely identify as Democrats, they are much less motivated to cast their ballots this year than they have been in the past two elections. The finding is a surprising one, as reform advocates have been working hard to galvanize the Latino constituency against increasing anti-immigrant sentiment.

But weak voter motivation may have less to do with politics and more to do with the pressures accompanying a bad economy. As I wrote for Campus Progress, populations that were disproportionately hurt by the recession seem to have less overall interest in voting this November.

In particular, Latino voters with close ties to undocumented workers are experiencing some of the worst voter fallout from the recession and, under the circumstances, are becoming politically disaffected despite the highly politicized immigration debate.

Rather than motivating the bulk of Latino voters, all of the controversy surrounding anti-immigrant sentiment and policies are instead fomenting an agitated conservative base. At ColorLines, Jamilah King astutely notes that, “while Democrats had hoped incendiary anti-immigrant legislation like SB 1070 would encourage voters to come out against Republicans in protest, it seems that the opposite is happening.”

Instead, controversy surrounding SB 1070 and other measures are generating strong support among conservatives. Maricopa County, AZ Sheriff Joe Arpaio, once the figurehead of immigration enforcement in the U.S., is now proclaiming himself to be the “poster boy” of immigration as he tours the country endorsing a slew of radical conservative candidates.

There they are!

Nevertheless, reform advocates are optimistic about both the power and the will of the Latino electorate.

According to Valerie Fernandez at New America Media, organizers are registering record numbers of Latinos this year. In Arizona, where voter registration closed on Monday, a coalition of ten groups claims to have registered 22,000 new voters. It’s a remarkable accomplishment. Latino voters make up only 15 percent of all registered voters in Arizona, despite the fact that Latinos comprise 30 percent of the state’s population. 22,000 new voters could effectively double the number of Latinos voting in the state, and may significantly impact the election’s outcome.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse . This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.



Americans with Disabilities Act anniversary thread

The Americans with Disabilities Act became U.S. law 20 years ago this week. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, the law's key author and sponsor, keynoted an anniversary celebration in Iowa City yesterday. He called for further action, in particular personal attendant services for those who need them. But there's no question that the ADA improved the lives of millions of Americans. As Harkin told the Cedar Rapids Gazette a few days ago,

“Before the ADA, life was very different for folks in Iowa and across the country,” Harkin said. “Discrimination was both commonplace and accepted.”

After 20 years with ADA, “we recognize that people with disabilities — like all people — have unique abilities, talents and aptitudes,” he said, “and America is better, fairer and richer when we make full use of those gifts.”

However, Harkin sees the need to do more to help people with disabilities live outside of institutions and to help them gain employment.

I remember when Congress was debating this law, and some Republicans warned that new regulations on businesses would wreck the economy and spark endless lawsuits. However, President George H. W. Bush's administration ultimately decided not to go to war against this bill, and compromise language exempting small businesses from some requirements satisfied most Congressional Republicans. The final version of the ADA passed the Senate on a 91 to 6 vote in July 1990. Most Republicans joined all the Democrats present in voting yes.

Bipartisan support for ADA continued when Harkin worked with Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah to "preserve the intent of the ADA after several court rulings weakened its standards." The ADA amendments act of 2008 passed by voice vote in the House and unanimous consent in the Senate. Last week a Senate resolution recognizing the ADA's 20th anniversary and celebrating "the advance of freedom and the opening of opportunity" this law made possible passed by a 100 to 0 vote. That indicates how far out of the mainstream Rand Paul is; the Republican Senate candidate from Kentucky believes the ADA goes too far and is unfair to business owners.

Harkin became an advocate for people with disabilities in part because his brother Frank was deaf. Probably most Americans have at least one friend or relative who has directly benefited from the ADA. The accessibility guidelines for curbs, doors and entrances have allowed my wheelchair-bound friend to take her son to the park, to preschool or to a coffee shop. Before the ADA, a mother in her situation would have been unable to enjoy those things.

This thread is for any comments about the ADA or continuing barriers faced by people with disabilities.

New Supreme Court nominee speculation thread

MSNBC's First Read reported today:

Per NBC’s Pete Williams and Savannah Guthrie, administration officials say at least eight names are on President Obama’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees. Six are women and two men. The names: U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Diane Wood of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Merrick Garland of the DC Court of Appeals, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, former George Supreme Court Chief Judge Leah Ward Sears, Sidney Thomas of the 9th Circuit, and Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow. Of these names, people outside the government but familiar with White House thinking say the serious contenders are Kagan, Wood, Garland, Napolitano, and Granholm. Guthrie adds that Obama is likely to meet next week with key senators to discuss the vacancy. Many of the new additions are about interest group appeasement. And note the growing concern in the liberal/progressive blogosphere about Kagan.

One person who doesn't sound concerned about Kagan is Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina:

“I like her,” he said, quickly adding, “and that might hurt her chances.”

Graham, whose support for Justice Sonia Sotomayor last summer was a turning point in her confirmation process, said he liked Kagan’s answers about national security and the president’s broad authority to detain enemy combatants when she was going through her own Senate confirmation.

Both of President Bill Clinton's Supreme Court nominees had received a private stamp of approval from key Republican Senator Orrin Hatch. My hunch is that Graham's kind words for Kagan help her chances with President Obama. He loves to position himself as a moderate between the left and the right.

What do you think?

UPDATE: Chris Bowers made the case for Sears here.

Sen. Hatch Might Kick MoveOn In The Teeth

Uh, excuse me?

On MSNBC this afternoon, Andrea Mitchell asked Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) about a MoveOn-organized protest outside his Salt Lake City office, where protesters criticized Hatch for allegedly being beholden to the insurance industry because it donated a lot of money to his past campaigns.
"MoveOn.org is a scurrilous organization," he said. "It's funded by George Soros. He's about as left wing as you can find in this country. And they're up to just one thing, and that is to smear good people. And frankly, they're not gonna smear me without getting kicked in the teeth by me."


Hatch's reaction reveals how sensitive some members of the Senate are to criticism - heaven forbid some of the nearly 23,000 MoveOn members who count themselves as Hatch's constituents might peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights.

And such a violent threat from the same man who wrote loving songs about his friend Ted Kennedy.

There's more...

When 74% isn't a Landslide: Do Enzi, Grassley, and Hatch oppose civil rights?

Adapted from Blue Moose Democrat.

Key Republican Senators Charles Grassley, Mike Enzi, and Orrin Hatch have all said that the health care bill needs to have between 75 and 80 Senate votes. Grassley has even gone so far as to make it clear that no matter how much he likes the final bill, he won't bother thinking for himself or for his constituents; he'll only vote for it if a large number of his Senate Republican colleagues do, as well.

75 votes is an absurd threshold. When a president wins election with 60% of the vote, we call it a landslide, and yet when "just" 60% of our elected representatives vote for a bill, we're supposed to consider it partisan? It gets even more absurd when one considers that the original Senators, some of our founding fathers, set up a system where a bare majority rules. The filibuster has since increased that to 60%.

Yet as horrible as they said it was back when they were threatening the "nuclear option," the filibuster just isn't enough for these three Republicans anymore. I think a bill with 75 votes would be a wonderful thing for political unity in this country, but it's just not going to happen. Most Senate Republicans, from Jim DeMint to Jon Kyl, have made it clear that they won't support any sort of reform. Should we give up because our majority is merely a big one rather than a huge one? Of course not! That wasn't the threshold when Republicans were in charge, and it is not the threshold now.

That fact got me thinking: are these three Senators willing to renege on their support for any current laws that received less than 75 votes? Or even more drastically, would they say such laws are invalid? As Howard Dean said on Maddow last night, "I think we probably should have had 80 votes to go to war in Iraq, too." Here, then, is a list of five laws that passed with less than 75% Congressional support:

  • The 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote passed the Senate 56-25, which today would be the equivalent of 69 Senators, six less than Grassley wants. Does that mean he thinks women shouldn't vote? Is he willing to say so about our efforts to promote democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq?
  • The 21st Amendment to the Constitution, which repealed Prohibition passed on a vote of 63-21. That means just 71.4% of Senators supported it. Would Mike Enzi like to see prohibition reinstated?
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed the Senate on a vote of 73-27, two shy of the new benchmark. Does this mean Orrin Hatch wants to repeal civil rights?
  • The Iraq War, ie, the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002, did receive 77 votes in the Senate. In the House, however, it only received 297 votes, or 68.3% support, 6.7% less than Republican negotiators now demand. Does this mean they are willing to start opposing the war?
  • Medicare Part D, ie, 2003's Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act, passed the Senate 54-44. Hatch, Enzi, and Grassley all voted aye - are they willing to admit they were wrong and should have held out for 21-26 more votes?

There's more...


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