2012: Eye on Immigration

[cross posted at The SAALT Spot]

As we enter another election season, we should be keeping even closer tabs on how candidates are discussing immigration. Last night, the GOP candidates squared off for the first time in Iowa. Not all of them fielded questions on immigration, but here is a quick summary from those that did:

Mitt Romney: Romney presented an oversimplified dichotomy of immigrants as either legal and highly skilled, or illegal low-skill workers who overstay their visas. “We are a nation of immigrants, we love legal immigration,” Romney repeated.

Herman Cain: Asked to address previous remarks where he called for a 20-foot-high, barbed-wire electric fence on the border, Cain said, “America’s got to learn how to take a joke.” Continuing with proposed policy, Cain stressed the importance that America have “wide open doors,” but did not provide much clarification beyond that.

Jon Huntsman: Prior to the debate, Huntsman had expressed interest in a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Asked to elaborate, Huntsman stayed rather vague, asserting a need to “prove we can secure the border,” and “then we can move on.” No mention of what we’d be moving on to, however.

Ron Paul: Regarding undocumented immigrants, Paul stated, “I don’t think we should give amnesty and they become voters.” He also denounced entitlements for undocumented immigrants, as well as state policies that allow them.

Newt Gingrich: Gingrich stood by his controversial proposal to have community boards decide which undocumented immigrants should have the opportunity to stay and pursue citizenship. One can imagine the potential exploitative turns such a policy could take.

Keep in mind that many states are pursuing draconian immigration laws, and policymakers from both sides of the political spectrum have been loath to point out the blatant xenophobia that often pervades this debate. They consistently oversimplify the issue, portraying immigrants to fit into one of the tidy categories Romney presented. Not only do we need to rid this dialogue of xenophobia, we also need to raise awareness about the diverse community negatively affected by our immigration policies. Jose Antonio Vargas’ piece in the New York Times is a must read, as is Prerna Lal’s piece at the SAALT Spot. Let’s make it clear to our politicians that we’re not buying their watered-down presentation of this extremely nuanced issue.

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