Friday, December 7, 2007

Democrat's New Immigration Strategy …Sort Of

The Democratic Party finally released what appears to be their official strategy/talking points intended to counter the Republican immigration wedge.

Now, I'm not a high paid consultant, or a professional Washington strategist with a long history of losing campaigns, but for the life of me I can't seem to figure out what the Democratic leadership is trying to accomplish with this plan.

Up until now it appeared that the "Republican-lite" strategy developed by Rahm Emanuel and the DLC centrists looked like it would become the party line. But with this new strategy, recently released on the party's website, I frankly haven't a clue what the Dems ultimate plan is.

The strategy in essence revolves around a few key concepts:

  • The Republicans are using the immigration issue for political gain

  • The Republicans had plenty of time to fix immigration and didn't

  • The Republicans have been unable to secure the border

  • The Republicans are using fear and bigotry to scapegoat immigrants

  • The scapegoating isn't working

Of course there's one glaring omission in this strategy …. there isn't any sort of a alternative plan proposed

Nowhere is there a word about what in fact the Democrats are going to do about immigration. Not even the usual vague call for "comprehensive reform that secures our border while providing a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants." And you can just forget about specifics.

But what’s even more troubling is the tone and tenor of the talking points

Despite having majorities in Congress for twelve years and a President in the White House for the last seven years, Republicans ignored the issues of border security and immigration reform until it became politically convenient. To distract from their failure to address the issues and to distract from their failed economic policies, Republicans turned immigration into a wedge issue for electoral gain that has relied on scapegoating people and dividing Americans.

From border walls that were never funded to trying to criminalize immigrants, their families, and even clergy, the Republican legacy on border security and immigration reform amounts to failure and scapegoating….

• For Years, Administration’s Catch and Release Policy Left Gaping Hole In Nation’s Security, While Targeting Mexicans.

• Through First Five Years of Bush Administration, Apprehensions of Illegal Immigrants Dropped, Deportable Aliens Declined, and Audits of Employers Dropped.

• DHS Has Wasted Millions On Failed Border Security Programs.

• Bush Administration Underfunded Border Security Called For By 9/11 Act.

• Republican Congress Provided Only Half of Mandated Border Agents, Killed Democratic Attempts to Meet Full Mandate.

• 2001-2005: Republicans Killed 5 Separate Attempts to Increase Border Security Funding By Over $2 Billion.

• 2005: Republicans Voted Against 650 Border Patrol Agents.

• 2003: Republicans Voted Against $750 Million for Border Security.

• But the GOP Didn’t Even Fund the Fence, Only Offered "Down Payment" On Fence Construction; Billions More Needed To Build.

What exactly are the Dems trying to say here?

Are they going to build a better wall?

Fund more Border Patrol Agents?

In essence, are they saying they will do the job the Republicans haven't been willing or able to do?

It looks like they're trying to send the message that when it comes to "border security" the Republicans have been as ineffective as they were with Katrina, Iraq, and the economy, and the Dems can do a better job.

And while this strategy might play with some discontented Republicans and swing independents, it raises serious questions about the Dems commitment to meaningful reform that doesn't rely on simplistic solutions like wall building and armed guards every 50ft along the border.

If trying to "out-Republican the Republicans" on border security is the best the leadership can come up with, they need to go back to the drawing board and start reworking this idea. For one thing, the Republicans own the misguided "border security" concept, and those that agree with them will never be convinced that the Dems could ever be as "tough"…or cruel … as say Tom Tancredo or Duncan Hunter are trying to force the Republican Party to be.

So obviously this strategy must be aimed at a broader audience. Those swing voters, independents, and Democrats, who polls show would support legalization of the 12 million unauthorized immigrants, but still want "strong border enforcement"

And here is where this strategy has its greatest flaw.

Instead of using the Republican's inability to "secure the borders" as an opening to introduce the broader, more sweeping changes, that would eventually decrease illegal entry and mass economic migration, they imply that they can simply do the same job … but better.

Instead they should be saying that after all these years the Republicans cannot physically seal the borders, because trying to "physically" seal the borders is not the answer. No wall can be high enough, and no amount of money spent, large enough. There have to be other, more complex, and comprehensive ways of controlling immigration:

  • Things like adjusting free trade agreements so they don't foster poverty in sender nations.

  • Things like working with foreign governments in sender nations to ensure that they not only respect human rights, but worker rights and economic justice.

  • Things like examining and reforming our immigration codes to make them more practical, fair, and reflective of economic realities.

  • Things like fixing our immigration bureaucracy so it can efficiently and humanely process the flow of immigrants in a timely and effective manner.

And these are but just a few of the things that should be talked about. There are many, many more.

If, in an ironic twist on Rovian tactics, the goal of the Democrat's attack on the Republican's inability to "secure the border" is to make a weakness out of their presumed strength of being tough on immigration, they need to fill that void with an alternative plan ... And it should be plain and simple to present to the American people:

"You can't build a wall high enough – We've got smarter answers"

Additionally this strategy has one other troubling aspect; the notion that the "Scapegoating is not working"

For one, it's just not accurate.

Anyone who has followed this issue over time knows that during the past two years the polling has been consistently shifting towards the right. And no wonder. Between Republican politicians beating the issue to death for a lack of anything else on the agenda, and the right-wing noise machine hammering away on it, the public increasingly moves further and further from the center. The MSM has only added to this shift by allowing Republicans a pass on important issues of the day, by letting them focus the debate on immigration. The trend is obvious, and unless the Democrats start to effectively counter the immigration wedge, any predictions about it's political power a year from now are speculative at best.

The second, and more troubling, aspect for concern about underestimating the effectiveness of scapegoating immigrants is that it demonstrates a total disconnect with the concerns of the very Latino voters the Democrats are so sure are guaranteed to flock to the party.

In fact, the "scapegoating" page on the website links to an article about the political price the Republicans will pay for demonizing Latino immigrants.

But, at the same time, Democrats are trying to convince voters that just because the polling shows that immigration is currently not a "top tier" issue for the American people, or that the wedge didn't work in the last two election cycles, somehow this demonstrates scapegoating's ineffectiveness.

But this sends a message that runs contrary to Latino's everyday experiences.

Latino voters know all too well the ramifications of current toxic political environment. They are appalled by the constant racial and ethnic attacks that pass for political discourse. Hate crimes against Latinos are at record levels and nearly daily there are stories of raids and roundups of "illegals" portrayed as subhuman criminals. And yes, Latinos see this as a product of a rabidly xenophobic and racist Republican party…. But Democratic downplaying of the impact of scapegoating, simply because it might prove politically ineffective, marginalizes it's true impact.

This, coupled with the implied emphasis on "border enforcement" and lack of a meaningful alternative comprehensive plan in this strategy cannot be viewed as good news for Latino voters.

We can only hope that as we move forward with this election and this issue, the Democrats will gain some further insight, and the courage to start to take a true leadership roll, and not only neutralize this issue politically…but actually come up with some real and meaningful solutions.


Stentor said...

The Democrat Party has gotten very good at playing the "lesser of two evils" card, so I'm not optimistic that they'll break the mold on this issue.

janinsanfran said...

The Dems don't have an immigration policy. They have a herd of politicians with very different positions (and constituencies) scrabbling for individual advantage.

Agree with stentor -- they'll try to get away with being the lesser evil as long as they can. Since they can't really deal with the reasons the US economy demands a low wage, rights-free work force, it is hard to see how they will do anything more than chip away at the edges of the reality that so many residents live "out of status." I wouldn't expect any action not forced on Dems.