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.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: Why the Senate Climate Bill is Doomed

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), though down one man, finally released their stab at climate legislation this week. One of the most crucial sections in the bill covers off-shore oil drilling, an issue that was supposed to help solve the tricky math of reaching 60 votes. But since the Deepwater Horizon rig sank in the Gulf of Mexico, drilling has become a wedge issue.

Just a few weeks ago, off-shore drilling could have been a point of compromise around which Senators could rally votes to pass the climate bill; now the bill had to strike a new balance to mollify both potential allies who oppose drilling, like Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and those who support drilling, like Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA). The draft that Sen. Kerry and Sen. Lieberman released this week allows for expanded drilling but gives states veto power over new projects.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who worked on the bill, said that he had not seen the changes his two colleagues had made since he dropped out of the drafting process—but he looked forward to reviewing their work. Although Sen. Kerry says he thinks the bill can pass,  without support from Sen. Graham or another Republican, chances are slim.

Next steps

Now that the two Senators have released the bill, the only work that remains is to pass it.

“I think climate change legislation is dead,” writes Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. His explanation:

“There’s not enough time for a bill to go through the committee process, get passed by the Senate, sent to conference, amended, and then passed by the full Congress before the midterms, and after the midterms Democrats will probably be reduced to 53 or 54 members in the Senate.”

Not everyone agrees that the bill’s chance are so dire, though.

“I think the chances are roughly as good as they’ve ever been in the Senate: low but non-trivial,” says Grist’s David Roberts.

Kerry’s argument

But should green-minded politicos root for the bill’s passage at all? Sen. Kerry and Sen. Lieberman worked closely with energy companies while drafting the bill, and the resulting legislation balances the need to reduce carbon emissions with the interests of prime polluters. The bill includes incentives for old energy industries like coal and natural gas, for instance, and exempts farmers from carbon caps.

On Wednesday, Sen. Kerry made his case to left-leaning environmentalists. “A comprehensive climate bill written purely for you and me — true believers — can’t pass the Senate no matter how hard or passionate I fight on it,” he wrote for Grist. The bill they have, he wrote, can pass, and that victory outweighs the compromises in the legislation.

Responses from the left

On Democracy Now!, Phil Radford, the executive director of GreenPeace USA, said that most environmental groups have given the bill little more than a “tepid endorsement.” Radford squared off on the show with Joseph Romm of the Center for American Progress, who supports the bill.

“This will be the first bill ever passed by the Senate, if it were to pass, that would put us on a path to get off of fossil fuels,” Romm said.

The two men were also divided over issues like the impact the climate bill could have on international negotiations.

They agreed, though, there is room for improvement; the only question is whether the politics of climate change will allow for the passage of a stronger bill any times soon. As Kevin Drum wrote, “If you think this year’s bills are watered down, just wait until you see what a Congress with a hair-thin Democratic majority produces.”

Coal and natural gas

Tripping up environmentalists now, though, are the hand-outs to dirty energy industries. The coal and natural gas industry could both benefit from the provisions of the Senate bill, for instance.

On GritTV, Jeff Biggers, a writer and educator who covers the coal industry, explained his frustration:

“The climate bill is a nice first step and a very well meaning effort for someone like Sen. Kerry who’s been working on this issue for 20 years. But at the same time, because of the massive big coal lobby that has poured millions of dollars into lobbying congress on this climate legislation…there are all sorts of little panders and loopholes and exemptions.”

“What we see in this bill is that Sen. Kerry and Lieberman want to ensure coal’s future,” he said.

The booming natural gas industry also had a hand in shaping the bill and benefited from it. Environmental groups like the Sierra Club favor natural gas as an energy source over coal, and as Kari Lydersen reports in Working In These Times, the industry is driving job growth at a time when the economy needs a boost.

But as Alex Halperin reported last month for The American Prospect, in the places where drilling is occurring, like Ithaca, NY, activists are arguing that the environmental risks could outweigh those economic benefits.

Drill or be drilled

That devil’s bargain—risking natural resources for jobs in the energy industry—went the wrong way for the Gulf Coast, and states like Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida are paying the price even before the oil hits shore.

As I report in AlterNet, the Gulf’s economy could lose billions of dollars and is suffering already from the misconception that its beaches are tarred with oil. With this catastrophe still fresh in voters’ minds, the Senate climate bill proposes pushing new drilling initiatives 75 miles offshore and giving affected states veto power over these projects.

Depending on how long the memory of the Deepwater Horizon spill lasts, politicians could have a good reason to veto drilling. Public News Service reports that 55% of Floridians now oppose off-shore drilling, “almost a complete reversal from one year ago.”

Blame game

Certainly no one is stepping up to take responsibility for the explosion off the coast of Louisiana, as the Washington Independent reports. At a hearing this week, officials from British Petroleum, which was operating the well, Transocean, which owns it, and Halliburton, which was doing contract work that may have caused the problem, all denied wrongdoing and pressed the blame on each other.

It’s starting to look Halliburton played a key part. “The focus is increasingly shifting to the role of Halliburton, which poured the cement for the rig, as well as for another operation that spilled oil off the coast of Australia last August,” writes Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones. The company apparently did not place a cement plug that would have kept gas in the well before emptying it of the mud that was holding in the flammable gas.

Anyone living in a state that could have new drilling off their coast should keep this catastrophe in mind if their politicians are given the option of vetoing new projects.

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

 

 

ACTION: Fight for your Freedom to Travel

(Cross-posted to Daily Kos.)

U.S. Citizens can travel to any country in the world except one. It's not the one that the U.S. fought a bloody war with 40 years ago. It's not the one that seized the U.S. embassy 30 years ago. No, we cannot travel to the country which 50 years ago overthrew a military dictator who had taken power in a coup d'état. None of these countries are democracies, but only one is subject to a travel ban.

With the announcement of the "Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act", a bipartisan initiative introduced by Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Reps. Bill Delahunt (D, MA-10) and Jeff Flake (R, AZ-6) in March, it seems as if we may at last be approaching a sane policy on travel to Cuba. But first, we need to overcome the obstructionism of the gang who thinks that 50 years of failed policy isn't enough.

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