Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How to win on immigration

-- by Dave

We've all become aware, I think, that adopting the xenophobic rhetoric of the nativists hasn't exactly proved to be much of a winner with the electorate.

After all, Tom Tancredo rapidly foundered, Mike Huckabee went nowhere, and Ron Paul recently all but closed up shop, and then once again hinted at a third-party bid. The guy the Republicans wound up nominating, in fact, has one of the more thoughtful public positions on the issue.

But the recent congressional election in Illinois' reliably Republican 14th District to replace former House Speaker Dennis Hastert provided a stark example of how Democrats can not only turn that hateful rhetoric on its head but -- as we've been advocating here for some time -- can craft a powerful and effective liberal or "moderate" position on immigration.

Because the Democrat in the race, Bill Foster, did just that. And not only did he win, 53%-47%, but it's a huge win with powerful implications for Democrats and Republicans alike.

Most significantly, immigration was the focus of much of the campaign rhetoric, largely because it has been one of Republican Jim Oberweis' pet issues for a long time now. And Oberweis' approach -- the video atop the post gives you some of the flavor of this -- was largely as extreme as you could find.

Foster, in stark comparison, offered an immigration platform that was humanitarian in its overall thrust -- positive and nuanced, ensuring voters he too favored "secure borders" and the "rule of law," but wants the law changed so that it can be effective too.

Archpundit has more:
Oberweis staked out the hardcore send back 12 million people immediately and no exceptions kind of policy and not only embraced the position, but embraced fairly radical anti-immigrant activist organizations.

Most amazing is that John McCain, long a reasonable voice on the immigration debate embraced Oberweis as McCain’s flip flop to the dark side of several issues continues.

Oberweis is a Board of Director for NumbersUSA which is one of the leading right wing anti-immigration groups.

He’s spoken at Illinois Minutemen meetings such as this one on May 6, 2006 mntmn017.wav

And despite railing on the businesses using undocumented workers, Oberweis Dairy never wondered why the company cleaning for them could afford to do the work they were doing. Turns out the contractor were paying below minimum wage for undocumented workers.

It's worth understanding the electoral dynamic at work here, too. Illinois' 14th in the most recent gerrymandering was drawn to protect Hastert's status as House Speaker -- that is, it's been a rock-ribbed Republican district for many years.

But in recent years, it has also become home to a large and rapidly growing immigrant population -- mostly Latinos and Asians. Their numbers climbed from 131,000 in 2000 to 189,912 in 2005; the immigrants and their children now constitute about 30 percent of the population. And most significantly as far as voting patterns go: naturalized citizens rose in numbers from 25,224 to 40,159.

Obviously, Oberweis wasn't exactly doing himself any favors with the largest bloc of new voters in his district. Republicans waved off concerns about that, noting that Latinos had largely supported George W. Bush in previous elections. Obviously, though, those same voters were repelled by Oberweis' overt nativism.

To counter it, Foster chose not to take the "enforcement first" approach promoted by too many Beltway Democrats. Instead, he offered nuanced solutions to immigration issues: His language stressed phrases like "workable compromise," "humanitarian," "comprehensive," "nation of laws" and "border security". He reached out to immigrant advocates and Latino community leaders.

And obviously, it worked. Hopefully, other Democrats will sit up and take note.

[The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights has more, and has followed the race since its inception.]

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