Even before the results of yesterday’s midterm elections were known, many already believed – even if only secretly – that the chances of the House passing immigration reform was dead. Several journalists and advocates had shifted their focus to administrative relief on deportations, with many questioning the wisdom of President Obama’s decision to delay executive action until after the midterm elections. Today, that doubt has been magnified and some are wondering how “big” Obama can go now that so many Democrats have been sent home.
Immigration played a role in general elections in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina – all states where anti-immigrant candidates emerged as winners — while conversely no pro-immigration reform Republicans lost their primaries. Democrats shied away from the issue, while hawkish Republicans like now Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas attacked and issued repeated distortions.
And in Oregon, a ballot measure to allow driver’s cards for undocumented immigrants failed by a whopping 30 percentage points.
By and large, however, anti-immigrant strategists and lawmakers are basking in this moment as they attempt to erode political and public will regarding whatever chances might be left for executive action on deportations. Mark Krikorian, Roy Beck, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham and a cast of usual anti-immigrant suspects took to Twitter last night to gloat and to drive support for opposition to any movement toward humane relief for millions of immigrants already living in the United States.
In every stage of this election season, anti-immigrant actors have exploited tragedies to advance their position and divide our communities. Yesterday, that fearmongering translated, in some ways, into a political win.
That there is still more work to do should be clear.
A referendum on voting rights in Kansas?
In what initially seemed like a tight race, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach held on to his position, holding off challenger Jean Schodorf by a comfortable margin.
To say Kobach’s impartiality as elections chief is, at best, questionable given his long-running campaign to prove that election fraud has become pandemic (it hasn’t) and to falsely claim that undocumented immigrants are largely to blame. His new rules that require Kansans to provide proof of citizenship in order to register to vote apparently blocked 20 percent of voter registration applications this year (h/t Right Wing Watch). Kobach has a long history of working within the established anti-immigrant movement, authoring bills such as Arizona’s epic failure SB 1070, and spending a lot of time out of his home state to help pass and to defend restrictive measures around the country. His win is not only meaningful in Kansas, but will have implications elsewhere as he attempts to spread the doctrine of self-deportation and to expand voter suppression through the promotion of Voter ID bills and his Interstate Crosscheck system.
If you need anymore convincing, an investigative report by Greg Palast for Al Jazeera America revealed that Kobach’s system could threaten to purge 7 million legally registered voters from voter rolls in the 28 states that employ his system. Unsurprisingly, most are minorities who vote Democrat.
Did the delay in executive action help anti-immigrant candidates?
On Election Day, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest emphasized that Obama would move ahead with his plan to grant legal status to undocumented immigrants through executive action. But, Republicans have opposed the idea in the run up to the election and might feel emboldened to wage a more forceful opposition now that they feel they have a supposed referendum. As the move on executive action has been delayed, scaled back, and delayed again, some are wondering how “big” he will go. Others crucially point out that the delay in action may have decreased the enthusiasm around pro-migrant candidates.
“He demobilized Latino activists across the country,” Latino Decisions’ Gary Segura told CBS News.
That certainly seemed to be the case in Colorado where incumbent Mark Udall lost to Cory Gardner. Gardner has opposed in-state tuition for DREAMers and rejected immigration reform during his time in Congress. In light of this, Udall supporters suggested their candidate might not have gone after the Latino vote forcefully enough.
“We always thought this election would come down to how many Latino voters turned out,” Patty Kupfer of America’s Voice told msnbc on Monday. “It doesn’t look like the Udall campaign was run [as if] that’s what the election is going to come down to.”
Udall won 63% of the Latino vote in 2008, but only about half of that vote yesterday according to exit polls.
A few bright spots
In what Krikorian called a “booby prize for (the) pro-amnesty crowd,” Pramila Jayapal, an immigrant rights advocate from Seattle, won a state senate seat in Washington.
In New Hampshire, Jean Shaheen beat out Scott Brown, who campaigned on some of the most vile anti-immigrant rhetoric uttered this election season. He deflected critics who called him a carpetbagger (Brown once served as a U.S. Senator from next-door Massachusetts) by claiming that immigration, Ebola and terrorism are all connected.
“We have a border that’s so porous that anyone can walk across it. I think it’s naive to think that people aren’t going to be walking through here who have those types of diseases and/or other types of intent – criminal or terrorist,” he told The Guardian during the campaign.
Brown has also managed to blame immigrants for the lack of jobs for U.S.-born workers.
Anti-immigrant rhetoric already intensifying
Brown is out of the Congressional scene for now, but the nasty anti-immigrant rhetoric he campaigned on is not going anywhere.
Similarly, anti-immigrant strategists and lawmakers are attempting to whip up fears by invoking the threat of pandemic health crises and terrorist threats without offering common sense solutions to actually address those challeges. Instead, they want to build on their own scapegoating to continue to push their restrictionist agenda, especially when it comes to executive action.
Ron Fournier of the National Journal articulated such sentiments on Twitter: “After this repudiation, acting on #immigration by fiat would be the political equivalent of literally flipping the country the bird.”
On the contrary, the president has the authority, the broad legal and historical precedent, and even the responsibility to do what he can to ensure humane relief for immigrants-as he has promised over and over again, so far hollowly. The attempt to cast him as acting outside of the law is false and part of the same, tired act. Advocates and journalists must call out the hateful rhetoric and strategies that comprise a gross violation of basic values of decency that denies the dignity and humanity of all people who care about such values, not just immigrants.