Monday, November 19, 2007

Democrats Getting Jumpy on Immigration

Today's Wall Street Journal has an interesting analysis of the Democratic Party's emerging immigration problem. Will immigration reform split the party?

Barack Obama had just ended his stump speech before a friendly audience in this tiny southern Iowa town when Stephen Scott's hand shot up with a question. Would Mr. Obama, as president, have signed last summer's failed "amnesty bill" for illegal immigrants, Mr. Scott, a local landscape painter, asked testily.

Mr. Obama cautiously walked through a long answer that ended with a plan to give legal status to long-established illegal immigrants. "There. Another question," he said, shutting down discussion.

The debate over how to deal with illegal immigrants split the Republican Party two years ago, infuriating its social-conservative base and driving away Hispanic voters. It could be even more perilous for Democrats.

Democratic strategists believe that Hispanic voters could swing a decisive handful of states -- including Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada -- to the Democrats in 2008, ensuring the election of a Democratic president and cementing a Democratic majority for years to come. But the party's blue-collar, middle-income and African-American supporters are increasingly angry about illegal immigration, much of it Hispanic.

Democrats "are pretty jumpy on the issue," says Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who pushed for immigration overhaul in the House. "They would prefer to allow the Republicans to shepherd the Hispanic votes into the Democratic column without having to scare away a single other voter themselves," he says....

In a Nov. 5 Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 11% of adults -- and 4% of Democratic voters -- said illegal immigration is their top priority. But members of that minority, organized on the Internet, have created political turmoil by flooding lawmakers' offices with faxes and regularly raising the issue on the campaign trail.

Similarly, a November University of Iowa poll shows just 2.4% of Iowa Democrats consider immigration as the issue "most important" to determining their vote, but 85% said a candidate's position on immigration is important or very important to them.

In one sign of the tension within the Democratic caucus, Hispanic-American lawmakers were furious last week that Democratic leaders hadn't derailed Republican efforts to include a limited English-only measure in a budget bill.

Hispanics made up 8% of the national vote in 2006, but their growing numbers and anger with the Republicans over such talk could mean electoral gold for the Democrats. NDN, a nonprofit Democratic think tank, predicts "there is no reasonable [Republican] road map to victory in 2008" if growing Hispanic populations tip several key states into the Democratic column.

But a pro-immigration policy risks alienating other Democratic constituencies....

"A heck of a lot of middle-class Democrats feel they're being overwhelmed [by illegal immigrants] and they're reacting the same as Republicans, only they're more ashamed to say so," says University of Virginia political scientist James Ceaser.

Democrats also risk setting off a "rivalry between the minorities" if they tilt toward Hispanics with their immigration policy, says the University of Virginia's Mr. Ceaser. The rise of Hispanic political power has come largely at the expense of African Americans, and Hispanic immigrants have largely replaced blacks in some industries, including construction.
See also John Fund''s analysis on Nancy Pelosi and the push to force the Salvation Army to hire non-English speakers.

Finally, see Steven Malanga's analysis of immigration policy following Hillary Clinton's recent tussle on the issue, "Why Illegal Immigration Alone Doesn't Matter."