This week we’ve seen a flurry of supercharged rhetoric coming out of the Left after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law a bill which, though described in apocalyptic terms, merely seeks to strengthen state law on immigration. The bill, Brewer and Arizonans as a whole have been described as racists, Nazis, totalitarians, idiots and worse (if that’s possible). President Barack Obama, who last month abdicated the responsibility given his office to install a “virtual fence” along the border, called the bill “misguided” before issuing a call to “African Americans, Latinos, women and young people” to get out and vote Democrat this November over the weekend in one of the most brazen examples of identity politics in American history.
Meanwhile, angry Mexicans stormed the Arizona state capitol last Friday and started a riot in which water bottles and other projectiles were hurled at police. On Monday, protestors smeared refried beans in swastika patterns on windows at the state capitol.
In the wake of all this, the Democrats have decided to put everything else aside – everything but their failed “financial reform” bill which institutionalizes bailouts and the moral hazard surrounding them – and rush immigration to the forefront in an effort to galvanize support among Hispanics and develop an issue they think can save them from electoral ruin in the fall.
Tactically, one would have to appreciate the acumen shown by Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Drumming up the Hispanic vote in the wake of Arizona’s new immigration law is probably Reid’s only real chance at re-election; he’s down as much as 15 percent to Republican challenger Sue Lowden and loses to all three major GOP candidates in a head-to-head matchup. Obama, meantime, won the Hispanic vote 2-to-1 over John McCain – largely because McCain’s lukewarm vacillation on immigration policy gave Latinos no sense that he cares about their issues, something which is still true as McCain has wobbled again on the Arizona law, supporting it after having been a longstanding champion of amnesty for illegal aliens and now calling for the National Guard to take over border patrol.
But if Obama and Reid are doing a nice job of crafting a wedge issue in advance of the congressional elections in November, are they setting themselves up for an even worse electoral drubbing by being on the wrong side of it?
Boiled down, what the new Arizona law does is to duplicate federal immigration law, making the commission of what are now federal crimes state crimes. It’s illegal under federal law to walk the streets without documents of immigration status anywhere in the country, including Arizona; this law just makes that illegal under state law as well. Most of the screaming about the law has come as a result of its call for police officers to request immigration documents when they suspect they’re talking to illegals, which is being called racial profiling despite the fact that the law specifically states racial profiling is to be avoided. There is also a hue and cry over the concept that police officers will be descending willy-nilly on “brown people” and asking for “papers” Nazi-style, though the law says such encounters are restricted to “lawful contact” – as in traffic stops and other regular police interactions.
Overall, public reaction to the bill has not at all been indicative that it’s radical or unreasonable. In fact, 60 percent of the American people favor local law enforcement verifying immigration status during routine traffic stops. And in Arizona, the new law has 70 percent support. And, perhaps most amazingly, despite the constant drumbeat of accusations of racism/nativism/xenophobia on the part of the control-the-borders crowd, 58 percent of the public is in favor of an open legal immigration policy – with Republican support for increased legal immigration actually outpacing Democrats and independents. Some 68 percent of Americans think controlling the border is more important than legalizing the status of illegal aliens (otherwise known as amnesty); this would seem to point to a clear mandate for locking down the border with an actual fence and actual patrols first, and then doing something about tweaking current immigration law. But that approach is, for whatever reason, sheer anathema to Washington, and even four years ago when this issue first became a major one on the scene that disconnect between the clear wishes of the American people and the predilections of our political class on both sides of the aisle was pronounced.
So the bet here by Obama and Reid is that they can turn the Hispanic vote into a hard-core constituency the way the black vote has been. To do that, they’ve got to double down on the race card, and use the fact that control of the borders has been one of the core tenets of the Tea Party movement as another piece of “evidence” that bigotry and divisiveness is behind both Tea Partiers and conservatives as a whole. While that’s a cynical, destructive, dishonest and disgraceful approach – par for the course wwhere this president and his congressional minions are concerned – it does represent a full-bodied effort to capture another special interest group for the Democrat plantation.
But by thumbing their nose at the majority on the immigration issue, Obama and Reid have put themselves in a risky position. First of all, it’s not an absolute certainty that a pro-amnesty stance on illegal immigration will turn the Hispanic vote into the black vote. There has been a great deal of push-polling within the Hispanic community to indicate that vast majorities of American Latinos want a comprehensive amnesty-based immigration policy, but few surveyors have undertaken to ask Hispanic Americans whether they favor tougher enforcement of the border. A 2008 Pew survey indicated that Hispanics oppose by lopsided margins four immigration enforcement measures – workplace raids (76-20), criminal prosecution of illegals (73-21), criminal prosecution of employers (70-25) and employee database checks prior to hiring (53-41), but amazingly that survey didn’t ask whether stronger border enforcement was acceptable. Another Pew survey, this one in January of 2009, placed immigration only in sixth place among issues of importance to Hispanics – an indication that Obama is ginning up the immigration issue in an effort not to govern effectively but to divide the country for electoral purposes.
But the Center For Immigration Studies released a Zogby survey in February which calls the Pew figures into dispute. The CIS/Zogby survey found that 56 percent of Hispanics said immigration levels were too high. Some 61 percent of Hispanics Zogby surveyed said inadequate enforcement was the cause of current illegal immigration levels, while only 20 percent blamed too few legal immigration opportunities. Some 65 percent of Hispanics also said there were enough Americans available to do unskilled jobs. And by a 52-34 margin, Zogby found that Latinos favor immigration policies which encourage illegals to go home rather than promote amnesty.
Another interesting sidelight here: while in a full-on pursuit of the Hispanic vote through whatever possible means, Obama might be giving away some of his near-unanimous support among African-Americans. While virtually nothing Obama could do would destroy his popularity in the black community, a “comprehensive” immigration policy is a colossal loser among blacks. The same Zogby survey which had somewhat surprising numbers among Hispanics showed a hard line on immigration with black voters – 68 percent characterized immigration levels as too high, 70 percent blamed inadequate border enforcement for the numbers of illegals in the country and 81 percent said there are enough Americans to do the unskilled jobs people assume illegals will do. The only question on which blacks don’t take a harder line than Hispanics is on the question of the future direction; by a 50-30 count blacks support a policy encouraging illegals to go home over an amnesty policy.
What these polls seem to say is that playing interest groups off against each other is no substitute for effective governance. That’s bad news for Obama and Reid, who have yet to show themselves capable of offering policies that broad majorities can support – and declining approval numbers are the price. Based on the options currently available to Obama and the Democrat Party in the face of what looks like an electoral holocaust in November, a shotgun marriage to the Hispanic vote and further demonization of Republicans and conservatives as bigots and xenophobes might seem to be the smart play. But an overreach on the issue threatens to irritate black voters and depress their enthusiasm in a midterm election without Obama on the ballot, might well produce disappointing results with a Hispanic community which is more interested in economic and social issues than immigration and isn’t excited about being taken for granted as a single-issue voing bloc and absolutely destroy the Democrats with white conservative and moderate voters who want the effective immigration policy our politicians have denied us for decades.