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Party Platforms Discuss Immigration, But Candidates Scarcely Mention It
By Claire Bergeron and Muzaffar Chishti
Migration Policy Institute
John McCain and Barack Obama giving their acceptance speeches at their respective conventions.
September 15, 2008
Their parties adopted dramatically different platforms on the issue of immigration, but Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Democratic nominee Barack Obama employed similar techniques when dealing with the topic at their respective conventions — neither said very much about it.
After a contentious primary season in which both parties' presidential candidates made seemingly near-daily references to the country's "broken immigration system," both Obama and McCain referred to immigration exactly once in their nomination acceptance speeches. And neither used the occasion to outline the type of immigration policy he would pursue as president.
Yet the party platforms, which crystallize the party faithful's orthodoxy on everything from abortion to free trade, sketch deeply different visions on immigration. The divide is clear from the outset, with Republicans discussing immigration in a section entitled "Immigration, National Security, and the Rule of Law," while Democrats examine immigration in a section entitled "Renewing American Community."
The Republican platform states that the party is "opposed to amnesty" and that "allowing millions of unidentified persons to enter and remain in this country poses grave risks."
The Republican document also lists the party's opposition to driver's licenses, in-state tuition, and public benefits for unauthorized immigrants. It reiterates party support for increased border security, including finishing the construction of a fence along portions of the US-Mexico border, and for existing programs to deter unauthorized employment, such as the federal E-Verify program.
The GOP platform also supports changing the way in which the US census is conducted, so that the census only counts individuals who are legally residing in the country.
The Democrats, who outlined their party platform in Denver the week before the GOP convention, emphasized the party's support for "comprehensive immigration reform, not just piecemeal efforts." While the platform states that the party supports increased numbers of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, it does not mention a border fence.
The platform also states support for increasing family-based visas as well as those reserved for foreign workers needed by US businesses. Finally, the Democratic platform supports allowing unauthorized immigrants to become legal residents provided they pay a fine, pay taxes, and learn English.
Other politicians speaking at the conventions mirrored the presidential nominees' silence on immigration, with the topic rarely coming up during floor speeches. Political pundits and immigration experts had predicted the relative quiet, noting in particular that McCain had earned conservatives' wrath for his vocal support of comprehensive immigration reform in 2006 and 2007.
The lack of immigration references at the conventions was the result of a conscious attempt by both campaigns to walk the immigration tightrope, experts say. Neither candidate wants to be seen as soft on illegal immigration, and thus risk alienating voters who believe that unauthorized immigrants take jobs away from American workers.
Yet they also are keenly aware that Hispanic voters, many of whom support legalization for unauthorized immigrants, could prove crucial in November.
In what little was said, speakers ignored the more polarizing elements of the party platforms to emphasize their candidate's moderate positions. In McCain's only mention of immigration during his acceptance speech, he repeated a line about all individuals in the United States being "God's children."
Democratic speakers emphasized that Obama supports both enforcement of the law, as well as legalization for unauthorized immigrants.
In his one reference to immigration during his acceptance speech, Obama took a similar stance. "Passions fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers," he said.
In a speech before the Congressional Hispanic Caucus three weeks later, Obama adopted a different tone, stating, "This election is about the 12 million people living in the shadows, the communities taking immigration enforcement into their own hands — they're counting on us...to finally enact comprehensive immigration reform."
Policy Beat in Brief
- Read the Republican Party platform here.
- Read the Democratic Party platform here.
ICE raid in Mississippi. ICE arrested 595 workers at the Howard Industries Transformer Plant in Laurel, Mississippi, on August 25, charging the majority with noncriminal immigration violations. The raid gained national media attention because of the number of arrests but also because just eight workers were charged with criminal violations, a contrast with the Postville, Iowa, raid in May in which 306 of the 389 workers arrested faced criminal identity-theft charges. Immigrant advocates and attorneys heavily criticized the Postville raid and the judicial proceedings that followed, stating that the arrested workers were denied adequate access to legal counsel and did not fully understand the charges brought against them. Advocates have stated that ICE may have sought to avoid negative press attention by not bringing criminal charges against the Howard Industries workers.
Scheduled Departure. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ended its controversial Scheduled Departure program for noncriminal immigrants with outstanding deportation orders after only eight immigrants came forward. ICE officials stated the program was "not effective" and vowed to step up efforts to arrest immigrants with outstanding deportation orders. The three-week pilot allowed immigrants with such orders to turn themselves in and depart from the country within 90 days on their own terms. ICE advertised the program as a way for unauthorized immigrants to avoid being arrested and detained in an ICE fugitive operations raid or worksite enforcement operation. Immigrant advocates criticized the program for not offering any real incentives for immigrants to turn themselves in.
Arar v. Ashcroft Case. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will rehear the case Arar v. Ashcroft, after a majority of the court voted to hear the case in front of all 12 judges. Although the court did not explain why it is reopening the case, the decision follows months of congressional inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Maher Arar’s removal. Arar claims the US government violated the Torture Victim Prevention Act and participated in "extraordinary rendition" when it detained him at JFK International Airport in New York and deported him to Jordan. Arar has stated that as a result of these actions, he was imprisoned and tortured in Syria for almost a year. In dismissing the Arar lawsuit in June, the court held that Arar was not entitled to US constitutional protections because he had not been technically "admitted" into the United States. The new hearing is scheduled for December.
New Citizenship Test. Immigrants who apply for US citizenship after October 1 will have to take a new and more difficult version of the citizenship test as part of their naturalization interview. US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) redesigned the test to create a more standardized naturalization process and to ensure that naturalized citizens have a meaningful understanding of US government and history. Immigrants will be required to correctly answer six of 10 history and civics questions from the list of 100 questions, as well as demonstrate knowledge of oral and written English. Applicants who apply for citizenship before October 1, 2008, and who are interviewed before October 1, 2009, will be able to choose between the old and new test.
Special Immigrant Visas for Iraqis. The application process for Iraqi nationals seeking special immigrant visas is at a "high risk for fraud and abuse," according to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General report. The report found that because of pressure to quickly adjudicate Iraqi and Afghan visa cases, applicants received visas when they did not actually qualify for the program. Iraqi nationals may apply for special immigrant visas if they meet criteria including working for the US government for at least 12 months after March 20, 2003, and clearing a background check. A separate program allows Iraqi and Afghan translators who worked for the United States military to apply for special immigrant visas.
State and Local Policy Beat in Brief
- Read the Second Circuit Court's previous dismissal of the Arar lawsuit here.
- Read more about Arar v. Ashcroft in the July 2008 Policy Beat.
Farmers Branch Housing Ordinance. A new housing ordinance preventing rentals to unauthorized immigrants in Farmers Branch, Texas, will not take effect because US District Court Judge Jane Boyle has issued a temporary restraining order. The new ordinance, which was scheduled to take effect on September 13, states that each tenant in a rented property must obtain a residential occupying lease from the city. Farmers Branch will then check the names of lease applicants against federal immigration databases and revoke the leases of tenants who can not be verified as lawful residents. US District Court Judge Sam Lindsay struck down a previous version of the ordinance in August. Landlords in Farmers Branch filed suit against the city to stop the new ordinance's implementation, claiming that the second ordinance, like its predecessor, is unconstitutional.
Los Angeles Day Laborer Ordinance. New home improvement stores in Los Angeles of 100,000 or more square feet could be required to build facilities for day laborers, thanks to a new city ordinance. The ordinance is aimed at improving work conditions for day laborers. Anti-illegal-immigration advocates have criticized the ordinance for condoning illegal immigration.
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