Executive Summary: Fighting the Anti-Immigrant Movement in the States
Purpose of this Strategy Memo: With the rise of anti-immigrant rhetoric and attacks, immigration will inevitably be a major issue in state legislatures in the 2008 session. The goal of this strategy document is to provide an outline of strategies and resources that state legislative leaders and advocates can use to challenge the anti-immigrant movements in their states.
Changing the Narrative on Immigration Politics: Even as anti-immigrant policies have been enacted in a number of states, other states have also been enacting smart, humane policies that raises living standards for all workers, undocumented and native worker alike, while encouraging maximum integration of new immigrants into our communities. State leaders and advocates can use smart policy campaigns to change the public debate on immigration both at the state level and nationally.
Launching the State Immigration Project: Working with allied labor, civil rights, religious, and community organizations, the Progressive States Network is launching the State Immigration Project, which will support state legislative leaders and advocates in challenging the rising anti-immigrant movement at the state level. The goal will be to defeat bad legislation and pass humane immigration legislation where possible, but also to create opportunities to highlight the positive contributions of immigrants to our states. These policy campaigns will emphasize those issues that evoke the many positive feelings the public has about immigrants, a counterbalance to the negative "wedge" messaging of the anti-immigrant rightwing. The campaign overall will have a five-part strategy:
Emphasize the political costs of anti-immigrant political positions and the long-term political gains from humane, inclusive immigration politics
Stress the facts that counter anti-immigrant lies
Promote policies that overcome anti-immigrant "wedge" politics and helps to unite progressive constituencies.
Emphasize the issues that divide even many conservative voters from anti-immigrant advocates
Generate national messaging on the positive steps being taken by states on the immigration issue
Making Immigration a Winning Issue- The Political Case Against Anti-Immigrant Politics: The reality is that globalization is driving economic changes, including immigration, that cause fear and uncertainty for many voters. If progressives promote economic policies that address the broader economic needs of working families, all polling shows that there is no majority for punitive measures against undocumented immigrants. And given the rapid expansion of legal immigrants voting in US elections, including the doubling of the Latino electorate from 7.5 million voters in 2000 to an estimated 14 million voters in 2008, there is no political leadership future for politicians who promote punitive policies against new immigrants and alienate this growing bloc of voters.
Smart State Policy to Deflect Anti-Immigrant Attacks: Progressive leaders need to promote policies that will highlight that those leading the anti-immigrant charge are actually against the interests of working families of all races and immigrant status. Key progressive immigration strategies include:
Wage Enforcement as Immigration Policy: Much of the anger at immigrants derives from fears that sweatshops and sub-minimum wage labor will undermine wage standards. Punishing employers who violate wage laws will politically unite all workers, immigrant and native alike, and actually strengthen the progressive political base. If wage enforcement bills end up being attached to anti-immigrant bills, many in the business lobby will break their current alliances with anti-immigrant politicians.
Encouraging Immigrant Integration and Naturalization: Progressives need to emphasize that all available evidence shows that most are eager to become full members of our communities if given a chance. highlight policies that help all immigrants better integrate, which will unite the interests of legal and undocumented immigrants along with the members of their communities who are already voting citizens.
Immigrants and Public Benefits: While state leaders and advocates need to highlight the studies that show that undocumented immigrants actually pay more in taxes than they use in public benefits, they also need to demand studies of the lost benefits to citizens and the costs to taxpayers from onerous anti-immigrant enforcement rules. Progressive leaders should also demand that the federal government, which receives billions in taxes paid by undocumented workers, share those revenues with states to expand services for communities with heavy immigrant populations.
Voting Reform versus "Voter ID" Attacks: Despite the complete lack of evidence that non-citizens have illegally voted in US elections, progressives need to challenge the voter ID requirements that are disenfranchising many legal voters. While voter ID laws need to be defeated, the other part of progressive mobilization should be demanding that voting be made easier, through reforms like same day registration and voting by mail, for people who do overcome these new barriers to proving their legal right to vote.
Immigrant Outreach as Public Safety and Anti-Terror Policy: Most law enforcement groups recognize that it is harder to protect victims of crime when millions of people living in our communities are fearful of talking to the police when they see a crime or are a victim of one. Progressive leaders can highlight this reality by promoting policies that protect undocumented immigrant victims and witnesses of crime when they contact the police and encourage community policing efforts involving undocumented immigrant communities.
Strengthening Progressive Alliances and Finding New Conservative Allies on the Immigration Issue: Beyond individual policy options, advocates and elected leaders need to emphasize that the coalition in support of humane policies involving new immigrants is diverse and cuts into even many seemingly conservative communities. Elected leaders can build on traditional support from many African-American leaders to labor unions to forge alliances with forward-looking business leaders and religious leaders, including many evangelicals, who recognize that smart, humane immigration policies for our communities is a source of both moral and social strength.
Conclusion- Moral Immigration Politics is Smart Politics: As this strategy memo outlines, moral immigration politics are also smart politics in the long-term, since the present coalition for humane immigration policy is rapidly being joined by new citizens who are unlikely to forgive politicians who vote wrong in the coming legislative session. Ultimately, there is no political future for the politicians leading the drive to enact anti-immigrant laws, while those elected leaders who step up with intelligent, humane policies will be the long-term political winners of the current debate.