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John Zaring: Immigration and the Latino vote

Democratic Voices

Posted: June 26, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 26, 2012 1:55 a.m.

The battle over America’s immigration policy has roiled American politics for many years. But let’s be honest, you don’t hear much of an uproar about those pesky Canadians sneaking in from the north. In reality, the brouhaha is really over the flow of Mexicans and citizens from Central American countries who have been sneaking over America’s porous border with Mexico for decades to fill mostly low-wage jobs like picking fruit or cutting grass that many Americans won’t do.

After three years of frustration over the failure of the U.S. Congress to take action on the once-bipartisan Dream Act, President Barack Obama issued an executive order directing the U.S. Justice Department to stop deportations of law-abiding children of illegal immigrants who are pursuing higher education or serving in our military, albeit in two-year increments.

Then Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned three out of the four key provisions to Arizona’s harsh 2010 law on immigration, known as SB 1070, and the political posturing in Washington intensified.

The truth is, neither presidential candidate is happy with Monday’s Supreme Court decision. While President Obama is happy the high court tossed out three provisions of Arizona’s law, the court, at least for now, has said that police can still ask for documentation if they have reason to believe someone may be in the country illegally. The president released a statement saying, “I remain concerned about the practical impact of the remaining provision of the Arizona law that requires local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they even suspect to be here illegally.”

Meanwhile, presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney didn’t say much at first, waiting hours before issuing a statement at a fundraising event in Scottsdale, saying, “I would have preferred to see the Supreme Court give more latitude to the states, not less.” He went on to say that immigration law has become “a muddle” and the Supreme Court should have, essentially, left Arizona to its own devices. Romney then blamed President Obama for creating the muddle, saying he hasn’t consistently pushed the Congress hard enough.

While there is some truth to that, Romney largely ignored the fact that Republicans in Congress have refused to discuss most immigration-related issues for years now, preferring to hide behind their “Secure the border first” slogan. But slogans don’t solve problems, conversations do. And sometimes, even compromise.

In this hyperpartisan climate, both parties can use a refresher course in the art of legislating, but nothing will change before the election in November. President Obama has a commanding lead with Latinos and will keep attacking Romney as he aims to protect it, while candidate Romney will likely remain cautious on this issue, knowing that any attempt to reach out to Latinos or move to the center by appearing to soften his position on illegal immigration risks alienating the conservative GOP base he so enthusiastically embraced throughout the primary process and desperately needs to motivate in order to win.

Meanwhile, for the president, he may have gotten the best of both worlds, politically speaking. The Supreme Court struck down the most egregious provisions, but left in place — at least until a new challenge comes before the court over how it is enforced — the “show me your papers” provision, which will certainly mobilize the Latino vote in Obama’s favor.

Still, the politics are complicated. Most Americans realize that our country needs comprehensive immigration reform, something even Republican Sen. John McCain and liberal Democrat stalwart, the late Sen. Edward “Teddy” Kennedy, worked together to foster not too long ago. However, in a climate where McCain now disowns his own bill, we shouldn’t expect much.

The one person here in Santa Clarita this might impact more than any other, is Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, the longtime Republican congressman from the 25th Congressional District. Due to California’s redistricting, McKeon’s constituents are no longer as lily white and Republican as they once were when he was first elected over 20 years ago. If the growing local Hispanic population get motivated to vote over this larger national issue, McKeon will see his statistical advantage over any Democrat shrink even more. And this November, he will face Dr. Lee Rogers, a candidate who not only holds centrist views preferred by independents, but who is a well-educated, highly respected doctor with the gravitas voters just might prefer when looking to replace a long-tenured ideologue like McKeon who is currently under the cloud of an ethics investigation.

John Zaring’s column appears regularly in “Democratic Voices.”


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