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I am certainly no expert on the issues specific to immigration reform; I accept the idea of a reasonable path to citizenship as good public policy and in line with our grand tradition of cultural and economic reinvigoration through immigration (and in opposition to our equally deep and unfortunate tradition of xenophobia).  But the political question of the enactment of such reform in Obama's first term raises some interesting questions about the futures of the parties and the electoral map.
Republicans have been facing an electoral map disadvantage in some sense at least since 2000.  This may sound counterintuitive as we all remember Gore actually won the popular vote but lost in the electoral college. But in fact Gore, even losing Florida and Ohio, could have won by picking up any number of small states; and Kerry (a genuinely weak candidate, in my opinion) came exceedingly close to being elected in the electoral college despite losing by a couple percentage points in the popular vote. In all three of the last elections, Democrats could basically count on a "bank" of electoral votes that was larger than the republicans.  

Based on these trends, Democrats can now reliably count on New England, the entire West Coast, the progressive north (Minnesota and Wisconsin, sometimes Iowa) and a significant block of middle-atlantic and rustbelt states (think the continuing inability of repubs to compete in presidential elections in New Jersey or Pennsylvannia, under varying circumstances). As has been widely commented on recently, the Republicans are facing a future as a "regional party" limited by its rural and evangelical base to the south and the prairie west. I think this may be a little optimistic unless we see a genuine realignment and new consensus (based necessarily on positive economic results) resulting in a 2012 election that looks like 1964 or 1984, a point that has been made by a number of bright people (the Notorious Nate Silver included; Jay Cost deconstructs the whole idea on RCP in rather convincing fashion as well).  Clearly a number of close states in this election will return to or remain in the red column (Missouri, Indiana, North Carolina) and the Republicans will certainly be able to compete in Florida and Ohio in an environment that is less hostile.
But just as crucial a result of this election is that two states in the Southwest, Nevada and New Mexico, now appear to be solidly in the blue column (McCain got creamed in Nevada), while Colorado and Arizona appear to be genuine swing states. You can quibble with whether or not increased Latino support of Obama provided the margin of victory in these states; but plainly Republicans cannot afford to lose two thirds of the latino votes in the Southwest, particularly in light of ongoing demographic change (changes that make Florida more difficult for repubs to win, and may make even Texas into a state where dems can compete) This alone results in future republican candidates facing "McCain's dilemma."  With Dems guaranteed to split, or outperform Republicans in the Southwest, even a republican who WINS Florida and Ohio, and border states like Missouri, is likely to lose.  
The common wisdom is that Obama's first big projects will be a green economic plan, and healthcare. These are incredibly complex issues that will take up a lot of legislative time and resources.  But if I were the Obama people, I would be taking a close look at immigration reform as well. A roadmap exists from the recent failed effort, and with democratic majorities and a small McCain-lead moderate republican faction already in existence (and belonging to that small republican group that is not in denial and understands these demographic shifts) this can clearly get done. I am not suggesting that Latinos will become a permanent part of a democratic coalition simply because Dems rationalize and decriminalize immigration policy, or that they are somehow a "one-issue group."  Rather, I believe that it is the nativist Republican backlash that will prevent Repubs from again getting G.W.'s 40% of the Latino vote for a generation, just as the Tom Tancredos of the Republican primary, and McCain's resultant inability to run as a moderate on the issue, drove latinos to the Dems this time around.  Republicans still believe they can turn african-americans by appealing to them on social issues; but as long as they remain the party of the Southern Strategy and the welfare and crime boogey-man, they will not.  The point is simply that it doesn't matter what issues you agree on: If the people who hate and/or fear you are overwhelmingly voting for a candidate because of that candidate's and that party's rhetoric, then you will not vote for that candidate and his party. Immigration reform is certain to drive the Republican base into a nativist frenzy and drive a further wedge between the pro-business power structure of the party and its rural, culturally conservative base. I would submit that immigration reform is now a winner for Democrats politically, because it drives Republicans apart more than Democrats.  
That is not to say that there would not be negative repercussions politically on the Dem side. Obama's concern would have to be for the newly elected Dem congresspeople in conservative districts in 2010; 2011 might be a good year as it would allow some of these reps to get to know their districts better and get reelected, and it would also make sure the issue is fresh and the Republican candidate in 2012 is once again forced to run on an anti-immigrant platform. The other major concern would be in the rust belt, where the issue has been used in the past to scare up votes.  But this is a region that presumably will be seeing government intervention and assistance through the "New New Deal," something it has not gotten in the last thirty years. Again, Obama does not need to win Ohio in 2012 to be reelected.  If he can create some jobs or get the auto industry turned around at all, this should counteract any fear-mongering on immigration in these areas.Jay Cost deconstructs

Originally posted to Firenze King of Snails on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 01:14 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  This is a good idea (0+ / 0-)

    Provided that the wedge you want to use between the Republican nativists and the GOP business class does not come back to haunt democrats by wedging between the Democratic labor class and the Democratic business class.

    •  More union members for labor. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Sentido

      Many labor unions I've seen are pro-immigrant, pro-immigration reform. They haven't forgotten their roots I guess.

      Man. Some "progressives" make Archie Bunker look like Tim Wise.

      by JayGR on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 01:24:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  But the flood of illegal immigrants is why (0+ / 0-)

        current wages are so low.  Virtually all the building trades are gone, and manufacturing is not far behind.

        If you let 30 million illegals into the boat, it will capsize -- which is what the Republican business class wants.

        •  First they are already here (4+ / 0-)

          second, legalizing their status will drive their wages up.  Third, illegal immigrants are not the major reason for the loss of highly paid trade jobs.

          Non, je ne regrette rien

          by alexnovo on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 01:36:09 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Studies show that (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Duke1676, alexnovo, lams712

          undocumented immigrants lower wages from 0-3% for those US workers who lack a high school degree and that's about it.

          They're not "illegals" if they're legalized.

          Man. Some "progressives" make Archie Bunker look like Tim Wise.

          by JayGR on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 01:36:19 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  People who don't pay wages don't lower or (0+ / 0-)

            raise wages.  To suggest that they do is to commit an error in logic, commonly referred to as "the inappropriate identification of agency."

            How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

            by hannah on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 02:03:13 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  The idea is that they're (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              alexnovo

              willing to accept lower wages and that depresses wages for others. This appears to be a minimal issue at worst and non-existent at best.

              Man. Some "progressives" make Archie Bunker look like Tim Wise.

              by JayGR on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 02:38:31 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  Thereby proving the old adage that (0+ / 0-)

            while figures don't lie, liars can figure. You only need to see how wages have fallen in the building trades to know that that is consummate bullshit.  I am old enough to remember when a carpenter made a living wage.

            And no, they don't deserve an offer of citizenship.  If they want to come as guest workers in accordance with an orderly system of law, and go home after their stints, I'm fine with that.

        •  well, you already have (0+ / 0-)

          illegal immigrants working and keeping low wages, whithout paying taxes. If you can get them in to the system, it will make it that much harder for employers to offer low wages.

          Immigration reform should be a top priority in 2010 or 2011, hopefully by then the economy has recovered a bit.

          the crosscurrents of history meets a new tide of hope - Michelle Obama

          by okayplayer on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 01:42:02 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  It should be the other way around (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Duke1676

            Immigration reform should be a top priority in 2010 or 2011, hopefully by then the economy has recovered a bit.

            the legalization of 10M immigrants have a big economic effect, think about it 10M new consumers, more cars, houses and services sold, money that is now wired overseas staying in US banks, more users of credit and yes taxes.

            is like adding another state to the union.

            just make clear in the law that a waiting period of x number of  years to obtain access to govt services.

            "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win." -- Mahatma Gandhi

            by IamTheJudge on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 03:34:31 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  Wages are low because employers refuse to (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          esquimaux, lams712

          pay a wage that's adequate to sustain the worker and his/her reproductive effort.  The recipients of wages are not responsible for what they are paid.  Their nationality is not relevant.

          That "the market" is somehow responsible for what individuals do is an illusion.  There's no logical reason to buy into it.

          The whole immigrant issue was just an effort to pick yet another group that could be isolated and dumped on and blamed for other people's mistakes.  There is nothing in the Constitution that permits the agents of government to discriminate on the basis of citizenship.  Citizenship generates another level of obligation--to participate in the processes of governing by voting, serving on juries and holding public office.  Citizenship is not a sign of higher social status or special benefits.  That conservatives don't, for the most part, understand that is too bad.  But, that's how it is.  They should be sent to consult with Justice Kennedy.  He'd set them straight.

          Some people may not approve of the "wretched refuse" of the old world landing on our shores, but that's what we are about.  All of their ancestors were people somebody refused to put up with.

          How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

          by hannah on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 02:00:11 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  If you don't have a right to work here, you don't (0+ / 0-)

            I can't go to Australia and ply my trade because they have laws against it.  An Australian can't come here and ply his trade, because we have laws against it.

            All I want is for the law to be enforced, and for the illegals here to not be rewarded for breaking the law.

            If we want to bring in temporary workers, then let's do it in a legal and orderly manner.

      •  Which one? I thought the unions were largly (0+ / 0-)

        against amnest or "paths to citizenship" on the grounds that it extra labor brings down the wage rates?

        The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

        by HoundDog on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 01:52:35 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  That really is the question. (0+ / 0-)

      Especially in the context of a serious downturn in the economy, the kind that makes people genuinely nervous about their future, which is historically the context in which you would expect to see nativism and anti-immigrant fervor among working class and lower-middle class people. Perhaps with McCain the Repubs were not in a position to play the card effectively; or perhaps as the economy worsens it will return to the fore.  But we are knee-deep in this recession already, and immigration is simply not a central part of the national economic debate the way taht it was in the 1990's. As the flow of Latino immigrants slows due to the economy and tougher border restrictions (as Pluto points out below) we may be looking at a situation of simply resolving the status of the immigrant population that we have, rather than perceiving it as trying to stave off some "tidal wave" of immigrants from abroad.  If this becomes the national perception, I think that reinforces the idea that immigration can become a Dem wedge.

  •  Immigration reform (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sentido

    needs to be a high priority for Obama, not only for all of the reasons you mention (and I do agree with them) but more importantly it is the right thing to do for the nation.  We have approximately 12 - 16 million undocumented workers in the US.  We all (the Feds, business and the rest of us) basically invited them in with a wink and a nod because we needed their labor and it benefited all of us.  No one in power (Dem. or Rep. has ever seriously attempted to stop the flow of immigrants).  We have to own up to this and fix the situation.  We must normalize these immigrants.  Even if we wanted to we are not going to deport them.  We need to bring them into the mainstream economy and give them the full protection of labor law (safety, wages, working conditions).  Then we need to formulate a reasonable policy for future immigration.  Not only will doing this be the right thing to do, it might also have the positive political consequences you mention.

    Non, je ne regrette rien

    by alexnovo on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 01:34:02 PM PST

  •  It's a Moot Point.. (0+ / 0-)

    ...They can't get out of here fast enough.

    Mexican emigration dropped 42 percent in 2 years

    November 23 2008 MEXICO CITY (AP) - A Mexican government survey shows a sharp drop in emigration.

    The National Statistics and Geography Institute says about eight of every 1,000 Mexicans left to live abroad between February and May of this year. That's a 42 percent drop from the same period in 2006.

    In all of 2007, some 814,000 Mexicans left the country, compared to 1.2 million in 2006.

    Mexican and U.S. officials cite America's economic downturn and tighter border security. The vast majority of Mexican migrants go to the United States.

    The U.S. Border Patrol also has reported a drop in the capture illegal immigrants along the border.

    •  Keep in mind that a migrant is not an (0+ / 0-)

      immigrant.  Most of the Mexicans who come here to work, don't intend to stay; just as most Germans and Brits and Russians and Japanese.

      People migrate; they don't take up permanent residence.  I mean, even the Pentagon recognizes the difference.  It's why we don't have permanent military bases anywhere--not even in the U.S.

      How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

      by hannah on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 02:08:08 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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