Four Lessons That Should Stop Vulnerable Democrats from Cowering from Immigration Reform

HandsThe Hill reports that vulnerable House and Senate Democrats want to focus more on the economy and “skip the party’s controversial legislative agenda.” Rather than safeguarding their reelection bids, these Democrats are more likely shooting themselves in the foot by deliberately sidestepping issues like immigration reform and climate change which helped Obama win the White House and put many of them in office.

In a Huffington Post column posted today, political strategist Robert Creamer offered Democrats four pieces of invaluable advice in preparation for next year’s midterm elections. Yellow-bellied Democrats should apply some of Creamer’s “lessons learned” to the immigration debate before passing up a golden opportunity to craft and pass progressive immigration reform in a Democratic-controlled Congress.

1. “First and foremost, the results show that it is critical that the Democratic message be framed in populist terms.”

Creamer explains that yesterday’s election results represent a referendum on incumbents — or candidates from the incumbent party — who failed to present themselves as populist “agents of change who will return economic power to average Americans.”

Backing away from the immigration issue isn’t going to do anything but reinforce the status quo. Democrats can and should talk about immigration reform in economic terms. For example, they could mention that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 would have generated $66 billion in new revenue during 2007-2016 if right-wingers hadn’t blocked it. Legalizing undocumented immigrants wouldn’t just generate more tax revenue, it would also level the playing field for all workers and improve wages and working conditions in industries that currently exploit immigrant labor. Meanwhile, shutting the door on high-skilled immigrants could drive the world’s best and brightest away from contributing to and growing the US economy.

2. “Independent voters will demand that Democrats deliver on our promise of change.”

Creamer points out that independents are impatient and need to see “some serious evidence” of change. He specifically lists immigration reform as one of the battles Democrats are going to have to win in addition to passing legislation that stimulates the economy. The nation’s immigration system has been broken for a long time and Democrats could win a lot of points for being the Party that finally fixes it.

3). “Democrats must inspire the base.”

Latino and immigrant voters make up a growing and powerful voting bloc that in 2008 came out in droves to support Obama and helped flip red states blue. Latinos overwhelmingly favored Democrats in hopes of seeing major improvements in their communities. Much of the political success of the current Congress and administration hinges on its ability to deliver comprehensive immigration reform and in turn make life-long Democrats out of Latino and immigrant voters.

4. “Our not-so-secret weapon in 2010 is the Republican circular firing squad.”

The right-wing’s self-destructive tendency is especially evident in the immigration debate. Right-wing anti-immigrant demagoguery tarnished the Republican brand during the 2007 immigration debate. The GOP is now viewed amongst Latino and immigrant voters as having created a climate of undeterred public immigrant-bashing that brought nativism into the mainstream. Some Republicans are trying to clean up the Party’s image, but one doesn’t have to look very far to realize that it’s probably going to be a while before the GOP is able to purge itself of its nativist fringe. Old habits die hard, and right-wing anti-immigrant rhetoric will probably lose hardline Republicans some votes without any Democratic interference.


But Creamer warns that Democrats can’t count on it. Actions speak louder than words and despite the fact that it’s progressives who created the “deep well of desire for real change in America,” their majority is by no means guaranteed if they don’t have the guts to go after it.

Andrea Christina Nill

Republished with permission from the Wonk Room/Think Progress


  1. Kevin Lynn says

    True, America should be a beacon to the best and the brightest. And all studies indicate that immigrants who come to the United States with skills, education and experience tend to flourish, create opportunities for their communities and ultimately add to the tax base. However, the inverse is true for those who come here without education and skills. Yes, there are always exceptions but one need not look to far a field to see that large numbers of illegal aliens in California have hurt rather than help the economy.

    For instance, Los Angeles County spent $48 million in just the month of June 09 on food stamps and welfare payments to the children of illegal aliens. In California, 41% of families receiving Calworks subsidies are headed by illegal aliens.

    The amnesty of ’86 was for all intensive purposes a failure. It did nothing to stem the tide of illegal immigration and in fact encouraged it. It created tighter border restrictions but reduced workplace enforcement and created every incentive for seasonal workers to stay as opposed to returning to Mexico. It was a field day for the forces looking to undermine the UFW.

    Add to that the passing of NAFTA which added to the push factor by forcing 1.5 million farmers from their farms and we have all the makings of a real disaster if amnesty is part of any reform. This is what it is. After all, if adding so many poor uneducated workers to the economy were a positive force, California would be an economic powerhouse right now. But it isn’t.

    Even Cesar Chavez was greatly conflicted when it came to the amnesty of ’86 because he knew on one hand it might be good to bring workers out of the shadows but on the other hand such a large supply of labor being permanently added to the labor force would depress wages for the chicanos he was fighting for. All indications are his worst fears were realized.

    I have over the past several years spoken with numerous Californians of Mexican dissent who are highly skeptical of illegal immigration and understand the external costs it creates. This is why the last two demonstrations staged by the forces advocating amnesty in Los Angeles were flops.

    If we have learned anything over the last 20 years it is that open borders do not work. THat is not to say workplace raids work either. We need enforcement but it should not target the workers rather, it should target the employers. If a pathway to citizenship is created it must include the learning of english and for students minimal grade point averages and attendance records. No one forced a worker to cross the border from Mexico and no one need force them to go back. In fact it would require 23,000 Boeing 737 to deport everyone. I reiterate, we’ve also learned amnesties do not work. They do nothing to enable the best and brightest to come to the US and only help undermine the rule of law.


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