Ostrich In-Depth: Primary Pandering: The GOP Primary Immigration Debate

20 Jan

By Paul Andres Young

You may have noticed a few months ago that a new season of US political game shows was upon us. It crept up earlier than usual with its manufactured pageantry that hearkened back to a simpler time when America was strong, moral, and mostly White. Of course, I’m talking about the Republican Presidential Primary, which I like to refer to as the Anyone but Mitt Show (hereafter referred to as The ABM Show).

Starting in May, The ABM Show roared to life with its first debate. New episodes came almost as quickly as the contestants rose and fell in the polls. The quick pace provided a much needed respite from the frustratingly anemic Congress. With its odd ball cast, plenty of plot twists, and a good helping of mudslinging, The ABM Show was probably the best (and scariest) reality TV show of the year. Now, with several contestants eliminated, it looks like Mitt will be the winner of Anyone but Mitt. With the show nearing the end, the editors of The Curious Ostrich invited me to do a brief overview of what this spectacle has revealed about and what it portends for immigration policy debate in this country.

While immigration played a notable role in The ABM Show, the plot lines have been unfortunately predictable. Against a backdrop of policies that are doing real and immediate harm to the health of immigrants, The ABM Show warded off a substantive discussion with slogans:“Build a fence! E-verify! Troops on the border!” That’s not to say there weren’t any twists, just not many worth noting. In fact, I can only think of two:

Rick Perry said that people who do not want to educate undocumented children “Do not have a heart.”

Newt Gingrich suggested a system that would give some undocumented immigrants legal status, but not citizenship and the rights that go with it.

In these two episodes, both Gingrich and Perry lost points for their defense of minor rights for undocumented individuals. In both cases, Mitt took a hard right stance and accused the two contestants of creating magnets to draw immigrants into the country.

The terms of the immigration debate were made clear when Perry lost as many points for calling opponents heartless as for defending affordable education for the undocumented. The ABM Show contestants and their fans, who are usually keen to use the rhetoric of morality, suddenly decided that with immigration policy, they’d rather not worry about right and wrong.

So what can we expect in the future? Congress has also been steadfast in its refusal to seriously address the immigration debate. Both Red Team and Blue Team are too entrenched in their alliances to make any real progress. They may throw it in there every now and then, but it will mostly be fan service, nothing that will affect the overall plot.

The future of Congress will depend on who wins this season of General Election. If Romney wins The ABM Show, as it looks like he will, then he will have some trouble with this issue as he prepares for the biggest political show of the year. A recent Pew Research Center poll on immigration found that sixty-seven percent of respondents supported a way for undocumented immigrants to become citizens. This is a sharp contrast to Romney’s far right stance on immigration, calling for strict border enforcement, the E-verify system, and no path to citizenship. With public opposition to this stance and the importance of the Latino vote, it is hard to see how Romney can appeal to the general electorate.

Some commentators believe Romney will pull one of his legendary flip flops to get around this issue. I, however, am not so sure about that. The flip flopping reputation has been Romney’s biggest obstacle so far. He has struggled time and again to prove his conservative credentials.  Because immigration is one area where he has relatively little history, he will likely continue to use it to prove just how conservative he can be and hope that voters are too distracted by other issues to notice.

To sum it all up, we can expect another year of contestants posturing to score points in their games. Let’s hope that they consider the real effects that political games can have on the lives and health of immigrants.

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One Response to “Ostrich In-Depth: Primary Pandering: The GOP Primary Immigration Debate”

  1. Daniel Santiago Madrigal January 20, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    I wonder if we will see a repeat of the recent California gubernatorial election, where Meg Whitman was partly done-in by the far-right stance she had to take on immigration to win her party’s nomination. Current Romney strategies seem to be ignoring the Latino/immigrant vote, that will surely change once the nomination is wrapped up.

    Let’s not forget mean Mitt before he weasels his way back to the middle.

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