Democrats Plot Electoral Strategy on Immigration

National Journal 
SECTION: Vol. 10 No. 9 
LENGTH: 548 words 

Democratic activists and state lawmakers are working fast to make sure that illegal immigration is not an issue that can be used against them in elections next year, but the debate already is dogging some presidential candidates. 

The Progressive States Network, a liberal advocacy and research group, released a strategy memorandum Thursday that outlines how Democrats can fight the outcry over illegal immigration in 2008. The paper urges Democratic candidates to emphasize the political and economic costs of aggressive anti-immigration proposals and to challenge attempts by Republicans to lump together the issues of illegal immigration and terrorism. The memo is part of the network's ongoing project to shape the immigration debate at the state level next year. 

According to the paper, employment verification and wage-enforcement policies designed to punish businesses that hire undocumented workers will only anger the voters who are hurt economically by them. The memo also stresses the long-term benefits of promoting policies to economically support, rather than target, Hispanic communities. 

"While some right-wing politicians see appeals to xenophobia as a smart political strategy, the reality is that Latino citizens are one of the fastest-growing demographics," the memo said. State legislatures have considered more than 1,000 immigration-related bills so far this year. Several states, including Colorado and Oklahoma, enacted measures to require employers to screen workers against a federal database. 

But some states have gone in the opposite direction. Illinois was sued by the Homeland Security Department this fall over a state law blocking employers from participating in the federal E-Verify program. 

In a conference call with other lawmakers and with reporters on Thursday, California state Sen. Gilbert Cedillo said it already is apparent that some people who have staked out tough anti-immigration stances are on the wrong side of the issue. 

Republicans in several Virginia counties this year have pursued proposals that would allow local law enforcers to check the immigration statuses of criminal suspects and deny certain public services to unlawful immigrants. But Democrats seized control of the Virginia Senate this month for the first time in a decade. 

"The electorate and the people are not there," Cedillo said of policies like those in Virginia. 

Still, immigration has become an explosive issue for Democrats. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was criticized recently for supporting a plan in New York to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. In a televised debate on Thursday, Clinton said she now opposes the proposal, which was abandoned this week by New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. 

Republican presidential candidate Tom Tancredo created a stir when he began airing a television advertisement that warns that weak immigration policies will lead to future terrorist attacks. In a telephone interview, Progressive States Network Policy Director Nathan Newman said candidates will suffer if they view all undocumented workers as potential terrorist threats. He also said lawmakers need to consider how economic and educational factors, among other things, have shaped the debate. 

"A lot of our failures on immigration are the function of failures in other policies," he said.