Hispanic immigration boom a 'wedge issue' for U.S. politicians
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Sat Sep 1 15:39:42 UTC 2007
Saturday » September 1 » 2007
Hispanic immigration boom a 'wedge issue' for U.S. politicians
CanWest News Service
Friday, August 31, 2007
WASHINGTON -- When the Miami-based television network Univision
announced last month it would hold the first Spanish-language
presidential campaign debates in U.S. history, its executives
advertised the forums as a golden opportunity for candidates to woo
America's fastest-growing bloc of voters, Hispanics. Then they started
getting rejection letters. First Democrat Hillary Clinton said no.
Then Republican front-runners Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney took a
pass on the debates.
"We should not be doing things that encourage people to stay separate
in a separate language," said Republican presidential candidate Tom
Tancredo, a five-term Colorado congressman, who also declined
Univision's invitation. The tepid reaction among White House
contenders highlights the political sensitivity surrounding the issue
of Hispanic immigration, which ranks second only to the war in Iraq as
the most volatile topic of the 2008 presidential campaign.
More than any other domestic issue, say political analysts, the
question of how to deal with the explosion of Spanish-speaking
immigrants has the potential to make or break a candidate's chances of
winning the White House. A new study released this week by the Center
for Immigration Studies projected that the U.S. will add 105 million
new immigrants by 2060 if current trends continue, pushing the
nation's population to 468 million. It's estimated about 38 million of
those new residents will be illegal immigrants, according to the
study, which was based on U.S. census reports. Another 22 million will
be U.S.-born descendants of illegal immigrants.
Over that same period of time, the report said, the number of
Hispanics is set to double to 30 per cent of the U.S. population. "If
you are very concerned in America about issues like congestion,
pollution, sprawl and loss of open space, then the situation is very
urgent and a different immigration policy would almost certainly make
sense," says CIS research director Steven Camarota.
"The study doesn't tell us what we ought to do. What it tells us is
where we are headed as a country. The question for the American people
is: do we want to go there?" As Americans contemplate the impact on
the country's culture, economy and environment that a huge population
increase will bring, emotions are running high on both sides of the
debate. "All the candidates are all nervous about it," says Larry
Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of
Virginia. "Immigration is deeply divisive. For every vote you pick up
you are likely to lose a vote. Naturally, candidates avoid it like the
Just ask Republican John McCain about the perils of taking a stand.
The Arizona senator's campaign, already suffering because of his
support for the U.S. troop surge in Iraq, went into freefall this
summer amid conservative anger over his support for legislation that
would have granted a form of amnesty for the 12 million illegal
immigrants currently in the country. "The immigration issue has caused
me some difficulties with our base," McCain admits. Giuliani, too, has
come under frequent attack from his GOP opponents, who say his lax
enforcement as mayor of New York made the city a haven for illegal
On the one hand, Republicans and Democrats alike are keen to gain
support among the nine million Hispanics who are currently registered
to vote. President George W. Bush made huge inroads among Hispanics in
the 2000 and 2004 elections, winning about 40 per cent of the Latino
vote. But courting Hispanic voters by supporting liberal immigration
policies comes with the risk of alienating the broader electorate.
Only 22 per cent of Americans favoured recent legislation that would
have granted illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, according to a
Rasmussen Reports poll in July. The bill died in the U.S. Senate.
"It is hard to see how we move off this political stalemate," says Camarota.
Immigration supporters say public concern about the expanding Hispanic
population is driven by irrational fear - the same kind that took hold
during past immigration booms that brought waves of eastern European
and Irish immigrants to the U.S. in the early 20th century. "It's like
when the first Europeans came over on the Mayflower and the Indians
saw them, I guarantee you someone said 'There goes the
neighbourhood,'" says Ben Wattenberg, a demographer at the American
Enterprise Institute. "Everybody says it's a disaster, but our
population has gone from 3.9 million in 1790 to over 300 million
today. That's the largest population explosion for any country in the
history of the world, and in that time we became a prosperous, free
With Republican candidates fearful of making a blunder that might
anger the party's base, only McCain agreed to participate in
Univision's planned Sept. 16 GOP Spanish-language debate. The debate
was cancelled. The Democratic debate is set to go ahead after Clinton,
who leads her opponents in polls of Hispanic voters, had a change of
heart and agreed to attend. "Right now I think Republicans are more
endangered on the issue," says Sabato, because their opposition to
amnesty for illegal immigrants is alienating Hispanics who voted for
Where Republicans stand to gain is among voters in the rapidly growing
U.S. southwest, where rural conservative and suburban whites cite
illegal immigration as a top priority.
"It's a much bigger issue in the Republican primaries than the
Democratic primaries," Sabato says. "It's a wedge issue. It can
produce votes for a candidate who sounds like he's getting tough on
border security and immigration."
But Republicans ignore the long-term demographic trends at their
peril, says Sabato.
The CIS immigration report estimates the population of non-Hispanic
whites will fall to 49 per cent in 2050 and 45 per cent in 2060 from
66 per cent today. The study also showed America's black population is
likely to remain stagnant, growing to 13.1 per cent from 12.7 per cent
of the population by 2060. The population of Asian-Americans is
expected to grow to nine per cent from 4.5 per cent in 2007.
"By the year 2050, whites are going to be the minority in this
country," says Sabato.
"Republicans cannot win as the party of white males. They are going to
be on the endangered list unless they can figure out a way to win the
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