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The 2010 Election: The Big Losers Are Immigrants

November 14, 2010

Now that the dust has settled and the pundits are still shuffling around clutching election returns in their hands, it’s time to take a closer look at how November 2 has impacted social justice issues in the U.S. We’ve heard endless talk ping-ponging back and forth about how and why the victors triumphed and the losers lost.

But nobody’s talking about the group that really stands to lose the most because of this election: immigrants. Victories in some states will swing legislatures toward more racist anti-immigration laws…while in other states, a single winning candidate is going to have a negative impact on the lives of people who are already living under the shadow of fear, prosecution, and reprisals.

Prior to the election, it had become clear that the current administration was not going to make genuine immigration reform a priority, as Obama had promised he would during his 2008 campaign. Instead, in a move to placate conservatives, the administration has actually allowed big increases in the number of deportations of undocumented workers over the past two years. While Democrats have been doing their under-the-table deals, many Republican and Tea Party candidates have been openly calling for state-by-state racism via unconstitutional laws like SB 1070. And the rallying cries for a witch hunt certainly won out this November.

One of the most surprising twists was in the campaign of Susana Martinez, the new governor of New Mexico. During her campaign, she announced that she would never sign a SB 1070 bill in her state. But now she’s also saying that she plans to repeal laws in New Mexico that have allowed undocumented workers to get drivers’ licenses—a crucial key to obtaining work—and that she will revoke all drivers’ licenses that have already been issued to this group of workers. In addition, she wants to terminate an in-state tuition lottery that allowed these workers to participate in lower-cost college classes. In a recent interview with CNN, Martinez, a Latina, said, “The borders with Mexico have to be shored up…the borders must be secured.” She also stated she is against any amnesty for undocumented workers, regardless of how long they’d lived in the U.S.

In Georgia, Mississippi, and Florida, newly elected governors have pledged to initiate SB 1070 measures. Georgia already has some of the harshest laws on the books—undocumented workers are virtually unable to get access to health care, college educations for their children, or any benefits, even though they pay into the state’s unemployment insurance through their jobs. Georgia’s constitution makes the governor the state budget director, so the office comes with a great deal of power to eliminate programs and fund state policing efforts. The incoming governor, Karen Handel, was not shy about her stand on undocumented immigrants. She blanketed the state during her campaign with a robocall that contained an endorsement from Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, one of the originators of SB 1070. Handel told voters “A Handel administration will say ‘bring it on’ to President Obama and pass legislation similar to what they have in Arizona.” And she now has the power of the purse to pursue this goal from the governor’s mansion.

In the South Carolina State Senate, Glenn McConnell has been planning to launch SB 1070 copycat legislation in January 2011. Now he has the support he needed—the newly elected governor, Nikki Haley, who announced on election night that she looks forward to signing McConnell’s bill into law. “We will see states across the country stepping up and protecting our citizens…that’s what Arizona has done,” Haley said in a speech in September.

Nebraska’s incumbent governor, Dave Heineman, ran his entire re-election campaign with a virulent anti-immigration plank. He plans to skirt around potential problems with SB 1070 challenges by focusing on broadening police powers at the city level to make it easier to arrest and question immigrants or people suspected of being immigrants. His unsuccessful opponent accused Heineman of appealing to “our lowest common denominator, our fear of difference.”

It’s hardly surprising that in Texas, the now-even-more-bigoted state legislature is already at work on 15 different anti-immigration bills. One of them would make it a state crime to cross the border into Texas without documentation. “Cross the line, do the time” is one slogan attached to this new intimidation tactic. And Texas lawmakers have been given plenty of clout with which to intimidate. Anti-immigrant candidates gained a landslide 50 seats in the state legislature on November 2. This caused one Tea Party blogger to crow, “Not since right after the Civil War have we had so many conservatives in the Texas House.” And really, that tells you all you need to know.

Up north in Wisconsin, State Representative Don Pridemore has just been waiting for an anti-immigrant majority in the State House to introduce an SB 1070-style law in his state. And now he has one. His bill would require everyone suspected of a crime to prove that he or she is not an undocumented immigrant; a 48-hour time window would be given to pull together proof before an arrest. Wisconsin residents would also be encouraged to file reports against and sue their city governments if they feel that undocumented workers were not being dealt with to the full extent of the law.

Pridemore has also stated he plans to put a stop to grass-roots sanctuary programs in Madison and other Wisconsin cities. He said about his legislation: “People are leaving Arizona as a result of their new immigration law, and I don’t want Wisconsin to be a magnet for these people because of the extensive state benefits we have.”

Here in Michigan, it’s very hard to determine exactly what we’re facing next. Rick Snyder kept his cards so close to his vest during the election that many people only knew he has a ten-point plan for reviving Michigan’s economy…but were somehow never able to pin him down on any details regarding those ten points. Snyder’s attitudes about immigration laws are equally obscure.

If you check the nonpartisan site, “On the Issues,” you’ll find that Snyder has no documented stance on 21 of the 25 topics that the watchdog group tracks, including immigration issues. In July, Snyder did say he wanted to “increase incentives for legal immigration, because legal immigrants will boost the economy and create jobs.” No details about what the incentives might be, how they would be “increased,” or even a hint of a stance on undocumented workers.

Piecemeal challenges to Arizona’s legislation are winding their way through the molasses-like waters of the legal process. Meanwhile, states are still free to put into place any laws they want regarding undocumented immigrants. It’s a window of opportunity to sharpen the hunt for members of a population who only want citizenship, dignity, honest work, and the right to remain in their own homes—the same things that the U.S. has been giving to immigrants since the 18th century. Current restrictive policies and massive backlogs are denying them those rights. Now state governments across the country will be driving them deeper into hiding and lives of fear. Our government has failed them on every level. Their best hope is that American citizens will reject this ongoing persecution and stand with them in solidarity until their human rights are secured.


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