Supporting immigrants' rights is not political suicide


The Republican Party is spouting vile hatred for immigrants, especially those who have dark skins but don't have papers. The punditry would have us believe that supporting rights for immigrants is “political suicide” in this election year.

One hundred and three members of the House of Representatives, all Democrats, are signed on as cosponsors of HR 4321, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform ASAP bill, whose chief sponsor is Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, and which is supported by most of organized labor and immigrants' rights organizations. (You can look up this or any other bill in Congress online). 

By sticking their necks out for immigration reform, have these 103 valiant souls committed “political suicide?”

A good resource for following these things is the Cook Political Report. It rates all the House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates in terms of the probability of winning their elections. Look at the “Competitive House Race Chart” on that website, and you will see that of currently Democratic seats that are likely to be lost to Republicans (in Cook's “lean Republican” and “likely Republican” columns) there is not one single seat that now belongs to one of the cosponsors of HR 4321. There are a total of five Democrats in the “likely Republican” column, and 17 in the “lean Republican” columns.

If you look at current Democrat held seats rated by Cook as toss-ups (could as easily go either to the Democrat or the Republican), you will see that three of the cosponsors of HR 4321 are in this category: Most important is Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. He is indeed an outstanding legislator on this and many other topics, including labor, environmental and foreign policy issues. The other two are Reps. John Salazar, D-Colo., and Ciro Rodriguez, D-Texas. This is out of 46 Democrats in that category.

In the “lean Democratic” column, which means the Democrat is slightly favored but by no means secure, there are four endangered seats: Those of Reps. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., an open seat in Rhode Island's 1st District. This is out of 28 Democratic seats in that column.

Finally, there is the “likely Democratic” column. These are seats that will probably go to the Democrat, but special circumstances could change that. This column includes Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, Barney Frank, D-Mass., Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., and Solomon Ortiz (the bill's main sponsor), D-Texas.

All the rest of the bill's cosponsors, 93 in all (five of whom are non-voting representatives of U.S. territories, so let's say 88) are considered to be occupying safe seats. Eighty-eight safe seats to 10 that are likely or leaning Republican, toss-ups, or likely or leaning Democratic.  

And many Democrats who have avoided the issue of immigrants' rights like the plague are doing poorly. Several of them are in the “likely Republican” and “lean Republican” columns. 

Now, we can't jump to the conclusion that Democrats who are doing poorly are suffering for their bad records on immigrants' rights, and those who are doing well are being rewarded for their support for immigrants' rights. A lot depends, for example, on the demographics and ideological makeup of the inhabitants of the congressional district in question, and the state of the political debate on many other issues. In Virginia, the two Democratic Congressmen who are co-sponsoring HR 4321, Reps. James Moran, D-Va. and Bobby Scott, D-Va., would probably have safe seats anyway, as they represent multiracial and multiethnic urban concentrations with a strong working-class presence. And some of the Democrats in conservative areas would be in trouble no matter what their position on immigration.

But we can conclude that the issue is not necessarily a career killer for those politicians who have a good record and a well-organized electoral operation. Taking a principled stand may lose you certain votes, but it will likely win you others.

It is extremely important for the immigrants' rights movement that any Republican gains be kept to a minimum or stopped, and that they not be allowed to take over either the House or the Senate. If that happens, the door will be opened to the advancement of all kinds of anti-immigrant legislation which has not advanced under the present Congress. Although pro-immigrant legislation has also not succeeded over the last couple of years, a Republican takeover of the leadership and committee chairmanships of House and Senate would stop any advancement of immigrant-friendly legislation.

It is also very important, as a practical matter and also one of honor, that those members of Congress who have worked hard for immigration reform, such as Grijalva of Arizona, receive maximum support.

Photo: New Yorkers rally for comprehensive immigration reform. (By Boss Tweed, courtesy Flickr, cc by 2.0)

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  • hey i think this is a good idea thanks for giving me the info.

    Posted by kayla pathia, 12/13/2010 11:19am (5 years ago)

  • @trailortrash and doris d
    Your voting for a Republican for the first time, when the Republican candidates are more corrupt, racist, and fascistic then they've ever been?

    Do you expect to be able to successfully expel 11 million undocumented immigrants from the U.S.? No one is suggesting open borders or mass immigration

    Who don't you trust? The proposal is one to advance the working class by preventing the exploitation of immigrant workers. We should repeal NAFTA and other trade agreements which, are the major causes of immigration and make sure that all immigrants have labor rights so that they can't be used to drive wages down.

    Posted by Sean Mulligan, 11/02/2010 2:54am (5 years ago)

  • @Max9010:

    "We need comprehensive immigration reform" that legalizes illegal immigrants? Who's "we", Max?

    In exactly what sense does a country with 300 million people, and 9.6% (official) unemployment in a failing economy, "need" mass immigration?

    "Lawmakers must also build a more flexible and responsive system for temporary and permanent employment-based immigration that can adapt quickly to changing economic times, supports innovation and entrepreneurship, and allows those who want to contribute their skills and talents to this country an opportunity to do so."

    Really? "Flexible and responsive" -- for WHOM? And why must "we" do that, as opposed to employing American workers?

    "Lawmakers should devise immigration policies that are responsive to labor demands and ensure fair wages and good working conditions for all workers, both native-born and foreign-born..."

    Oh, wow. Are you sort of throwing us a bone? How nice. But I don't believe for one minute that you have either the ability or the serious intent to achieve any such thing. The simple fact is that we've heard it all before. Which is why I know that what would really happen would be this: you'd get your open borders, and the American worker would get the shaft, and that would be the end of the issue.

    No thanks. I don't trust you.

    Posted by Trailer Trash, 10/27/2010 9:48pm (5 years ago)

  • @Doris D:

    I hear you. And I'd like to apologize to you for what the American left has become.

    Posted by Trailer Trash, 10/27/2010 9:10pm (5 years ago)

  • We wil see on November 2nd if immigration reform is political suicide. I have never voted for a Republican....until this year.

    Posted by Doris D, 10/27/2010 6:29pm (5 years ago)

    OCTOBER 2010
    The Immigration Policy Center, established in 2003, is the policy arm of the American Immigration Council. IPC's mission is to shape a national conversation on immigration and immigrant integration. Through its research and analysis, IPC provides policymakers, the media, and the general public with accurate information about the role of immigrants and immigration policy on U.S. society. IPC reports and materials are widely disseminated and relied upon by press and policymakers. IPC staff regularly serves as experts to leaders on Capitol Hill, opinion-makers, and the media. IPC is a non-partisan organization that neither supports nor opposes any political party or candidate for office. Visit our website at and our blog at

    Americans are justifiably frustrated and angry with our outdated and broken immigration system. The problem is complex, and a comprehensive, national solution is necessary. Politicians who suggest that the U.S. can deport its way out of the problem by removing 11 million people are unrealistic. The U.S. needs a fair, practical solution that addresses the underlying causes of unauthorized immigration and creates a new, national legal immigration system for the 21st century.

    Immigration reform must be rational, practical, and tough: It is unacceptable to have 11 million people in our country living outside the legal system. To enhance our security, we must have smart border and interior enforcement, target the real causes of violence along the border, and prosecute those who exploit immigrant labor and those who profit from smuggling. Additionally, unauthorized immigrants should be required to come forward to legalize their status, pay back taxes, learn English, and pass criminal background checks. Finally, we must create sufficient legal channels to support the level of immigration our country needs in the future.

    Efforts simply to deport are often political games, not serious policy proposals: Over the past two decade, tens of billions of dollars have been spent on immigration enforcement. The annual budget of the U.S. Border Patrol has increased nine-fold and the number of Border Patrol agents stationed along the southwest border has increased nearly five-fold since Fiscal Year (FY) 1992, yet the unauthorized population has tripled in size. Billions in taxpayer dollars are wasted every year when we attempt to spend our way out of the problem rather than solve it.

    A majority of Americans favor realistic reform over unachievable rhetoric: Polls consistently find that Americans support a tough but comprehensive solution for those here without authorization over an enforcement-only immigration policy. According to polls of likely 2010 general election voters conducted for America’s Voice by Lake Research Partners and Benenson Strategy Group, 66% of all voters and 74% of Latino voters supported comprehensive immigration reform as opposed to enforcement-only measures. This included 62% of Republicans, 67% of Independents, and 69% of Democrats. Finally, 67% of all likely voters believed that unauthorized immigrants “should be required to register, meet certain conditions, and eventually allowed to apply for citizenship,” rather than leaving the country or being allowed to stay only temporarily.

    The public sees comprehensive immigration reform as consistent with, not working against, our nation’s economic recovery: Nationwide, 67% of voters said “We would be better off if people who are in the United States illegally became legal taxpayers so they pay their fair share,” vs. 28% who said “We would be better off if people who are in the United States illegally left the country because they are taking away jobs that Americans need.”

    The best way to solve the problem is to face reality: Most unauthorized immigrants are integrated members of U.S. families and communities. Nationwide, unauthorized immigrants comprise 5.1% of the workforce, and in states like Arizona, the unauthorized share of the workforce is even higher. In certain sectors, like agriculture and construction, unauthorized workers comprise up to 25% of the workforce. Nationwide, there are approximately 4 million U.S.-citizen children with at least one unauthorized parent, and policies that target their parents have grave effects on the children. Approximately 53% of unauthorized immigrants have been in the U.S. ten years or more. The vast majority of unauthorized immigrants are simply here to work. Unauthorized immigrants who work,
    pay taxes, do not commit crimes, and want to be Americans should be required to come forward and register for legal status.

    First and foremost, the United States needs a legal immigration system that enhances our security, strengthens our economy, and supports our communities: The most practical and realistic way to reduce unauthorized immigration dramatically is to bring U.S. immigration policy in line with economic and social realities. Lawmakers should devise immigration policies that are responsive to labor demands and ensure fair wages and good working conditions for all workers, both native-born and foreign-born, and which require unauthorized immigrants already living in the United States to apply for legal status. Lawmakers must also build a more flexible and responsive system for temporary and permanent employment-based immigration that can adapt quickly to changing economic times, supports innovation and entrepreneurship, and allows those who want to contribute their skills and talents to this country an opportunity to do so. Finally, lawmakers should address the delays and restrictions that impose unreasonably long waiting times on hardworking families seeking to join close relatives in the U.S.

    Posted by Max9010, 10/27/2010 3:24pm (5 years ago)

  • Of course "legal" immigrants have rights. The only 'right' that an illegal immigrant has is to go to a judge in a deportation hearing.

    Posted by Halibut, 10/27/2010 2:48pm (5 years ago)

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