Why is immigration such a divisive topic for politicians?
The deepening divide between politics and reality on immigration.
Immigration has been one of the most divisive issues during this election season. And that’s a shame, because there’s actually less disagreement about the topic among voters than you might think.
President Obama and Mitt Romney do have very different policies when it comes to dealing with the nation’s 12 million undocumented immigrants. Both have supported tough enforcement measures, but Obama favors a pathway to citizenship for eligible undocumented immigrants, while Romney wants to ramp up enforcement to drive them out of the country (in other words, “self-deport”).
And in the Republican primary, Romney used immigration as his chief cudgel against rivals like Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, who favored some relief for the undocumented.
For the candidates, having a vigorous debate to flesh out their differences is more than fair. But it’s important to remember that consensus in the general public appears to be growing — not fraying — on how to handle the status of the undocumented population.
The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation released a comprehensive poll this week that found that the divide between parties on key issues such as taxes and entitlement reform is wider than ever. But immigration is one issue where there is considerably less disagreement between voters in different parties.
On some issues, partisan divisions have blocked action in Congress, but the Post-Kaiser study shows that rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats are less divided.
Take immigration, for example. Almost half of Republicans and three-quarters of Democrats say they favor a policy that would allow illegal immigrants to apply for legal status…
Take a look at the opinions of the different subgroups among parties and you’ll get a better glimpse of how the Republican Party has two different factions on immigration. From the Post:
Deporting undocumented immigrants is one area where Tea Partiers and old-school, “country club” Republicans agree. But other factions of the party, like social conservatives and moderates, support a more relaxed policy.
Romney seems to have grappled with both sides of the issue in his personal history, just as his party has. The Post reported Sunday that as a leader in the Mormon Church, Romney showed a Spanish-speaking congregation how to obtain legal aid for its undocumented members. That’s basically the opposite of “self-deportation.”
Among other officials, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has urged the presidential candidates to have a lengthier, in-depth debate on immigration on the campaign trail. Even Obama barely mentions his immigration plans, tossing in a line here and there during stump speeches in Latino-heavy swing states. His immigration policy isn’t even listed on his English-language website.
And News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch has urged Romney to switch his immigration stance in order to make the GOP more palatable to Latino voters.
Immigration has become somewhat of a third-rail in politics ever since the failed 2007 effort to pass comprehensive reform, leaving many on Capitol Hill with a sour taste in their mouth.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) alluded to this failure while discussing his stalled “alternative DREAM Act” legislation with lawmakers.
“There were too many scars, too much pain, too many people had been beat up about what had happened four or five years before. I tried to raise the issue, but people said, ‘Look, I just don’t want to go there,’” he told a gathering of Latino elected officials in June. “It wasn’t just Republicans, it was senators who had been burned by the way this issue was discussed and approached and didn’t want to talk about it before.”
Members of Congress still might be licking their wounds five years later, and a legislative debate over comprehensive immigration reform or the DREAM Act would surely be a knock-down drag out fight.
But the numbers show that voters are ready to re-open the debate.
(Photos: Flickr, prayitno; Screenshot, Washington Post)