Immigration: The Third Rail Still Hums


Ronald Brownstein is puzzled by the immigration paradox:

For years, in good economic times and bad, polls have consistently found that most Americans believe immigrants who are in the United States illegally should be provided a pathway to legal status if they take steps such as paying a fine or learning English. And yet, no matter how many times pollsters return that verdict, most Republican and Democratic elected officials alike remain convinced that providing illegal immigrants any route to legal status is a losing cause politically.

It’s difficult to think of another issue on which so many political leaders are so flatly, reflexively dismissive of a consistent finding in public opinion polling. “I have given briefings to Republican congressmen at retreats on Capitol Hill [about those numbers] and they just look at me and say flatly, ‘that’s not what people in my district think,' " says Republican pollster Whit Ayres.

I can think of another: most voters want defense cuts rather than entitlement cuts. But Washington cannot even contemplate such a priority. Besides, the anti-immigrant priorities of the elites are not fueled by 'what people in my district think' – but by 'what the most mobilized and angry people in my district think'. Clive Crook assessed Obama's speech yesterday in El Paso:

Obama is pushing the familiar three-part strategy: tighter security controls at and behind the border; a more liberal regime for highly skilled immigrants; and a pathway (maybe a too-difficult pathway) to legal status for the 11m illegal immigrants already in the country. It is essentially the same formula that George W. Bush proposed, and that once-moderate Republicans such as John McCain used to back. It was good policy then and still is.

Will Wilkinson tries to see the GOP's countermove:

Republicans really are in a tough spot. The GOP's best medium-to-long-run strategy—a continuation of George W. Bush and Karl Rove's efforts to court Latino voters—conflicts directly with the best short-run strategy of conservative candidates who bank on nativist populism to get them in office and keep them there.

Jonathan Tobin isn't buying Obama's sincerity:

[I]f immigration reform had truly been a priority for Obama then he might have spent some time working on it during his first two years in office when his party controlled both houses of Congress. The fact that he didn’t lift a finger on this issue until the Republican victory last November made passage of reform an impossibility makes it hard for even the most partisan of Hispanic Democrats to take Obama at face value on immigration.

(Photo: Kevin Nunoz, 5, marches during a May Day protest May 1, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. Thousands of people marched for immigration reform, among other issues. By Eric Thayer/Getty Images)