Presidential candidates, Supreme Court bring immigration to forefront again

by Mario T. García

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The issue of undocumented immigration is once again front and center in the news. First, both President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addressed the annual meeting of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, and second, the Supreme Court has handed down its ruling on Arizona SB 1070, which attempted to supersede federal law with respect to prosecuting undocumented immigrants.

In the first case, it is clear there is a disconnect between Democrats and Republicans on the issue of undocumented immigration. President Obama in his talk more directly addressed the need to deal with the issue, especially through new immigration reform laws in Congress. In the meantime, he said he will attempt some reforms through administrative directions, as he did earlier this month on a modified version of the DREAM Act.

By contrast, Mitt Romney did not really address the issue, only focusing on how he would improve the economy, which he said in turn would assist Latinos, but he avoided any substantive discussion of how he would deal with undocumented immigration. He did not repeat the views he expressed in the primaries, encouraging self-deportation, praising the Arizona law, and saying that if elected, he would veto the DREAM Act if it were passed by Congress.

Romney, unlike the president, is in a real dilemma with respect to Latino voters. He has already alienated many by his earlier strident views on undocumented immigrants, and anything he says now, even if contrary to those views, will sound hollow and opportunistic, only reminding Latino voters of his earlier views, which most Latinos reject.

Romney supporters attempted to salvage his disappointing presentation at the meeting by stressing that according to polls, Latinos do not regard immigration as their No. 1 issue, instead prioritizing the economy and education. These polls are correct; however, what they don't say is that the immigration issue, as I have noted before, is a status issue for most Latinos.

The anti-undocumented-immigrant movement has been articulated in such a way as to cast doubts about the Americanism of U.S.-born Latinos, and this has not gone down well. Latinos see the immigration issue as the litmus test as to whether they are going to be given full recognition as full-blown Americans, and they will not accept anything less. They are set to strike out at those who would even suggest that somehow Latinos are not true Americans. That's why the Republicans, including Romney, are in political trouble with Latinos, and it seems that there is little they can do to change this between now and the election in November.

As to the Supreme Court ruling, everyone provides his or her own spin on the implications of the decision that struck out most of the Arizona law but left in place its most publicized piece that allows local police in the process of investigating a possible breech of the law to request proof of residence and/or citizenship -- but only, as the court stressed, under very strict limits that do not violate a person's civil rights. In my opinion, on the whole, it is a victory for the Obama administration to the extent that its challenge to the Arizona law based on federal authority on immigration was upheld. Only the federal government has authority on immigration issues.

The only provision of the Arizona law left standing in fact complies with already existing cooperation between police forces in many states and immigration officials. However, the court made it very clear that in this cooperation, local police cannot arrest undocumented immigrants, but can only report their suspicions to federal immigration agents, who might or might not investigate. But the cry by Arizona reactionaries when they passed the law that they were going to enforce immigration laws because the federal government in their opinion refused to do so was unequivocally rejected by the court -- as well it should be.

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