November 04, 2016

Immigrants and Voting

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

Recently naturalized immigrants have the ability influence voting outcomes in several key states, including Florida, Nevada, Virginia, and Arizona. The researchers at the University of Southern California Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration (CSII) released a report, titled Rock the (Naturalized) Vote II, which builds upon findings that CSII published in 2012. In that report, researchers highlighted the link between populations that had a high recently-naturalized population and voting trends.

For instance, in the 2012 Presidential election, Obama won with 71% of the Latin@/x vote, and 73% of the Asian vote. At that time, roughly 25% of all Latin@s/x and 66% of all Asians were naturalized citizens. Part of this support came with the passage of the Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Undocumented individuals who were brought to the U.S. as children can apply for DACA. This allows a two-year, renewable, protection from deportation, and grants work authorization. Over the last four years, 728,000 undocumented immigrants have been awarded DACA status. According to a report by Migration Policy Institute, although DACA does not provide an avenue for citizenship, it has improved employment, earnings, educational attainment, and social integration. Although immigrants with DACA are ineligible to vote (as they do not have citizenship), this population, particularly among Latin@s/x, is linked through social and political networks to peers who can vote.

How might a high recently-naturalized population influence the presidential election in 2016?

By combining current trends in naturalization with the scholarship on immigration, researchers at CSII conclude that:

[F]or Latinos, those who naturalize in a politically charged environment on immigration issues…vote at rates substantially higher than native-born or longer-term naturalized Latino citizens…Scholars use the term “defensive naturalization’“to refer to the act of seeking citizenship as a form of mobilization or in response to anti-immigrant sentiment.

Given these trends and the knowledge that elections are often won on very slim margins, one could expect a shift in rhetoric and strategy towards more inclusionary language and polices by both political parties.

Yet, in the Rock the (Naturalized) Vote II researchers highlight the ways that the ultra-conservative Tea Party faction of the Republican Party has mobilized against inclusionary immigration policies. In 2013, a bi-partisan immigration reform died in the more conservative House. In 2014, the executive order that would support parents of undocumented youth (DAPA) and would expand the current bill that supports undocumented youth (DACA) suffered political backlash from conservatives in Texas, and with a deadlocked Supreme Court, “the executive action was put on hold.” These setbacks reflect a deep aversion to immigrants from certain parts of the world. This is evident in the rhetoric and imagery used in the current presidential election season.

Donald Trump, for instance, began his campaign with the promise of “building a wall” and deporting all undocumented immigrants. He coupled this plan with negative rhetoric aimed at Mexicans (nationals, immigrants, and of U.S. descent). He stated:

Mexico has taken advantage of us in another way as well: gangs, drug traffickers and cartels have freely exploited our open borders and committed vast numbers of crimes inside the United States. The United States has borne the extraordinary daily cost of this criminal activity, including the cost of trials and incarcerations. Not to mention the even greater human cost.

Trump’s statement reinforces a popular stereotype: that Mexicans are inherently criminal. These types of comments reflect a xenophobic and racist undercurrent to American culture and serve to further marginalize communities of color that are quickly becoming a major voting bloc nationally.

According to a report by the American Immigration Council published in 2015, immigrants are less likely to engage in criminal-activity than native-born Americans. Yet, policy makers continue to use fear and stereotypes to influence immigration laws. Furthermore, Mexican immigration has declined since 2000. According to the Pew Research Center, many Mexican immigrants have returned home (140,000 between 2009-2014). And, as of 2014, Mexican immigrants made up 27.6% of the immigration population (down from 29% in 2000). In 2014, unauthorized immigrants from Mexico made up 52% of this population, however, undocumented immigration from other parts of the world, such as Asia, Central American, and sub-Saharan Africa, accounted for the other 48%. The political conversation regarding immigration, however, continues to focus on “illegal criminal immigration” from Mexico.

As I discussed in a previous blog post on the child migrant crisis, rhetorical tactics of fear have been a central Republican strategy for swaying voters. With his overt racism, xenophobia, and nationalism, Trump has latched onto a fears that there is a border crisis and has expanded it to also include Muslims. This is most evident in his 10-point immigration plan.

Conversely, Hillary Clinton calls for comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a pathway to citizenship for current undocumented immigrants and support young undocumented people who were brought to the U.S. when they were children. Clinton’s plan makes an explicit distinction between immigrants with a violent criminal background and those who arrive to the U.S. looking for expanded opportunities.

Part of Clinton’s plan attempts to remediate current conditions that marginalize immigrant populations; this includes for-profit family detention centers that flourished under the Obama administration, and moving forward on DAPA and the expansion to DACA.

According to the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Clinton’s immigration plan “would [also] boost economic output from the projected long-run growth rate of 2% to 2.3% a year on average, while Trump’s more restrictive policies would trim GDP growth from 2% to 1.7% over the next decade.” For Clinton’s plan, this translates to an additional $100 billion to the overall economy. Trump’s plan, however, would result in an additional $50 billion to the overall debt.

Both Democratic and Republican candidates (and presidents) have engaged in tactics that marginalize, vilify, and criminalize immigrant populations(particularly Mexican and, more recently, Muslim populations). However, with the growing numbers of naturalized immigrants, particularly from Latin America, the Democratic Party is focused on creating comprehensive policies that target immigrant-populations that are likely to vote Democratic in the future.



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