Party Platforms Discuss Immigration, But Candidates Scarcely Mention It
Originally published on the Migration Information Source (www.migrationinformation.org), a project of the Migration Policy Institute.Their parties adopted dramatically different platforms on the issue of immigration, but Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Democratic nominee Barack Obama employed similar techniques when dealing with the topic at their respective conventions — neither said very much about it.
After a contentious primary season in which both parties' presidential candidates made seemingly near-daily references to the country's "broken immigration system," both Obama and McCain referred to immigration exactly once in their nomination acceptance speeches. And neither used the occasion to outline the type of immigration policy he would pursue as president.
Yet the party platforms, which crystallize the party faithful's orthodoxy on everything from abortion to free trade, sketch deeply different visions on immigration. The divide is clear from the outset, with Republicans discussing immigration in a section entitled "Immigration, National Security, and the Rule of Law," while Democrats examine immigration in a section entitled "Renewing American Community."
The Republican platform states that the party is "opposed to amnesty" and that "allowing millions of unidentified persons to enter and remain in this country poses grave risks."
The Republican document also lists the party's opposition to driver's licenses, in-state tuition, and public benefits for unauthorized immigrants. It reiterates party support for increased border security, including finishing the construction of a fence along portions of the US-Mexico border, and for existing programs to deter unauthorized employment, such as the federal E-Verify program.
The GOP platform also supports changing the way in which the US census is conducted, so that the census only counts individuals who are legally residing in the country.
The Democrats, who outlined their party platform in Denver the week before the GOP convention, emphasized the party's support for "comprehensive immigration reform, not just piecemeal efforts." While the platform states that the party supports increased numbers of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, it does not mention a border fence.
The platform also states support for increasing family-based visas as well as those reserved for foreign workers needed by US businesses. Finally, the Democratic platform supports allowing unauthorized immigrants to become legal residents provided they pay a fine, pay taxes, and learn English.
Other politicians speaking at the conventions mirrored the presidential nominees' silence on immigration, with the topic rarely coming up during floor speeches. Political pundits and immigration experts had predicted the relative quiet, noting in particular that McCain had earned conservatives' wrath for his vocal support of comprehensive immigration reform in 2006 and 2007.
The lack of immigration references at the conventions was the result of a conscious attempt by both campaigns to walk the immigration tightrope, experts say. Neither candidate wants to be seen as soft on illegal immigration, and thus risk alienating voters who believe that unauthorized immigrants take jobs away from American workers.
Yet they also are keenly aware that Hispanic voters, many of whom support legalization for unauthorized immigrants, could prove crucial in November.
In what little was said, speakers ignored the more polarizing elements of the party platforms to emphasize their candidate's moderate positions. In McCain's only mention of immigration during his acceptance speech, he repeated a line about all individuals in the United States being "God's children."
Democratic speakers emphasized that Obama supports both enforcement of the law, as well as legalization for unauthorized immigrants.
In his one reference to immigration during his acceptance speech, Obama took a similar stance. "Passions fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers," he said.
In a speech before the Congressional Hispanic Caucus three weeks later, Obama adopted a different tone, stating, "This election is about the 12 million people living in the shadows, the communities taking immigration enforcement into their own hands — they're counting on us...to finally enact comprehensive immigration reform." Policy Beat in Brief
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