Elections 2012: Where Is The Immigration Reform Debate?

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One hot issue in the last presidential campaign has apparently cooled to the point of nearly disappearing in 2012: immigration reform.  It remains a hot topic in certain states (Arizona in particular), but on the national level candidates simply aren’t saying much about it.

It’s understandable that Republicans don’t want to discuss immigration reform since their position tends to put off the large Hispanic population that the party hopes to win over.  That’s because the GOP’s standard-bearers have opposed such popular legislation among Hispanics as the Dream Act.

The Dream Act would provide a pathway to citizenship for children of illegal aliens of good moral character who had lived in the country for at least five years and completed high school.  The act would further reward military service and attendance at an accredited college.  Mitt Romney has said that he will veto the act if he becomes president.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, one of the leading Hispanic politicians in the country, believes that the Republican nominating process has alienated Hispanic voters.

“America is a big tent. We come from every corner of the earth. Our values should represent that, and our politics and our actions, our policies should represent that,” Villaraigosa said January 29 in an interview with Candy Crowley on CNN’s “State of the Union”. “And I think, when you talk about the question of immigration as an example, many of the policies that you see articulated right now in those debates are just out of the mainstream.”

Taking the opposite perspective was former U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who argued that Hispanics are natural Republicans and would eventually see themselves as such.

He told Crowley that Republican values are “so similar” to Latino values of “family, faith, hard work,” that as soon as more Hispanic families enter the middle class, “they’re going to realize that they want to keep the money that they’ve worked so hard for.”

But Villaraigosa pointed out that it was more than just immigration that was turning off Hispanic voters:

“When it comes to policies and actions, it’s the president who has helped to create 2 million jobs that Latinos have right now, 6 million overall with the Recovery Act, so it’s not just immigration,” he told Crowley. “I would agree with respect to rhetoric, however, that some of that divisive polarizing rhetoric that you see and hear in the Republican debates are turning off a lot of voters, including a lot of Latino voters.”

Guiterrez acknowledged that “the words sting sometimes, the words that are used around the debate. And that has turned off Hispanics,” but went on to argue that President Obama and the Democrats had failed to make good on any of what he called the president’s “grand promises” for Hispanics.

“It’s been three years. He had the House and the Senate for two years, and nothing has been done,” Gutierrez said. “What has happened is that immigration is being used as a political football. It’s being used for political tactics.”

The telling aspect of this January 29 debate is the lack of follow-up by the media or references to it in campaign rhetoric.  The issue does not appear to have “legs” – at least not on a national level and not in 2012.