The results from the election are still not entirely settled, but the dust is beginning to settle and we can begin analyzing the election results and making predictions about what the future holds.
First and foremost, we will have four more years of a pro-immigration President. We knew that before the first vote was cast because both Senator McCain and President-Elect Obama have well-established records and said most of the right things in the campaign.
The specifics of the President-elect's plans on immigration are far from clear, however. While he presumably signed off on the Democratic Party platform call for enacting comprehensive immigration reform within the first year of his Administration, he never referred to a timetable in any of his remarks on immigration.
Senate and House Races
In the races in the House and the Senate, Democrats had an evening that in a normal year would be considered excellent, though some of the predictions of massive pickups in both Houses that were predicted did not happen. The Democrats will pick up probably a half dozen seats in the Senate and about 20 seats in the House of Representatives.
The Democrats did not reach the magic number of 60 in the Senate that would stop filibusters, but on immigration issues, that number is not necessarily critical. There are a few pro-immigration Republicans and anti-immigration Democrats and it’s not always easy to predict how votes will go. Yes, sixty votes can keep a bill moving, but that sixty will very likely be a combination mostly comprised of Democrats with a few critical Republican votes. The key is that the Democratic Party is clearly the more pro-immigration of the two major parties so the increase in the Democrats’ ranks will make it easier to get immigration legislation passed. Whether the numbers are enough are hard to tell at this point.
Immigration was on the ballot in a few states, though the measures were someone modest in comparison to bills that have passed in the last couple of years. Here’s the quick run down:
· Missouri overwhelmingly passed a bill making immigration the state’s official language.
· Arizona failed to pass a referendum that ratified legislation softening the state’s notoriously tough employer sanctions law.
· California voters rejected a referendum that would have barred illegally present immigrants from being able to secure bonds in criminal cases.
· Florida voters failed to support a measure that would have prohibited the state from regulating property ownership by people ineligible for US citizenship (the measure was designed to address a 1926 law allowing Asians to be barred from property ownership)
· Oregon voters rejected a referendum that would have limited to one to two years the amount of time a student can be taught primarily in a language other than English
How the immigration issue played around the country
The real immigration story in this year’s election was the lack of immigration as an issue in the election. In 2006, candidates could not get enough of promoting themselves as get-tough-on-immigration candidates and we saw commercials touting the border fence, worksite raids, and, of course, no “amnesty”. Immigration had ranked as late as last summer as the number one issue for 12% of the US population and immigration ranked number two on the list of issues of most importance to Americans.
In November 2008, most Americans don’t think a lot about the subject anymore. Fewer than 1% consider immigration the most important issue and on the list of most important issues, immigration now ranks 12th. Some candidates decided to make an issue over immigration in this race, but no one seemed to care. Even a last minute story about the illegal status of President-Elect Obama’s aunt was barely noticed by voters. With the exception of Utah Republican Chris Cannon losing his primary race largely due to his immigration views, there is little evidence that taking an anti-immigration position significantly helped any candidate this year.
The one candidate that made immigration a major issue didn’t succeed in the race. Republican Lou Barletta, the mayor of Hazleton, Pennsylvania who was responsible for one of the nation’s toughest immigration ordinances, narrowly lost to Democratic incumbent Paul Kanjorski.
The New Republic’s James Kirchik goes further and claims that the GOP’s anti-immigration positions seriously damaged the party: