Thursday, June 17, 2004

Immigration Policy, The Hispanic Vote, and the 2004 Election

I must confess that I am a bit more of a policy sociologist than a public sociologist, but thought this topic might make for an interesting posting all the same. While immigration may not be at the focal point of the 2004 presidential campaigns it is certainly an important issue for a couple of reasons. The longer-standing issues of illegal immigration and number of immigrant arrivals each year continue to spark debate and challenge policymakers. A more recent source of concern stems from the realization that immigrants and their descendants will be playing an ever increasing role in the political process in the U.S.

The Hispanic population in the United States has grown by leaps and bounds, and it will continue to do so in future years (modest estimates suggest the Hispanic population will double by 2050, at which point Hispanics will account for 25% of the overall composition of the national population). More importantly, the increase in the number of Hispanic citizens has implications for the kind of tactics and positions adopted by political candidates over the course of their campaign. This ups the ante for politicians who must articulate a position on the subject of immigration that now addresses the concerns of their native-born and non-Hispanic constituency as well as those who are Hispanic or affiliated with other immigrant groups.

What do Bush and Kerry have to say about immigration? To my frustrated annoyance it appears they are adopting the same stance for the most part--they are supportive of policy that will increase the level of legal immigration to the U.S. each year and they also support policy that would give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. What is more interesting than even their arguments regarding immigration (and the fact they may be a point of consensus) is that this stance is not necessarily supported by the American public; at least not if we focus our attention on the opinion of non-Hispanic Americans. The apparent disconnect between the policy advocated by politicians and the policy advocated by public opinion makes an interesting subject of study for public sociology. Are these candidates really shifting their positions to draw in Hispanic voters, even if this means they are going against the opinions of the rest of their constituency? Does this mean there is another amnesty looming for illegal immigrants, even if it is popularly opposed?

This was the subject of an article recently posted in "The Times Union" (Albany, NY; June 13, 2004) on the disparities in immigrant viewpoint and how candidates ignore public opinion in their effort to secure the Hispanic vote.


At 9:17 PM, Blogger Goesh said...

Perhaps a matter of labor and consumption:
I recall when i lived up north many years ago seeing Mexicans in the fields wielding hoes and going down rows of beets. As a youngster i was troubled in never knowing if they were doing this because no one else wanted to or if they were somehow uniquely suited for it. No adult could give me an answer and I could see no reason, by observation of these folks, how they could be uniquely suited for such brutal labor.

Now I see Mexicans doing roof work in hot weather when other crews are off the roofs, and mowing and trimming grass and hauling junk and sweating away in kitchens in resturants, and it appears they are politically suited for such brutal labor. I am drawn back to the beet fields of my mind again.

I confess that I have been spying on them. I see them going to mass in fairly large numbers ( i have been slinking about in catholic churches for this reason) and lining up by pay phones to call home and I note an approximate equal number of minutes each fellow spends on the phone. I ask myself, would Emilio Zapata approve of this? I note them buying things in small volume with a lack of extravagence - I note the conservative but clean apparel worn after work hours - I note their unobtrusive demeanor in stores, the inherent human dignity about them - I note the absence of women and children and I wonder what the families down south are buying with the money sent their way. I note the grumbling about them but I note the parking lots at their resturants are fairly full and I notice a lack of rudeness towards them in stores and resturants. Money talks in America.
Both bush and kerry agree that money talks, but my intuition tells me that these Mexicans, if granted instant citizenship, would vote based on their perception of personal dignity and honor each candidate presents to them, and nothing else. It is a political necessity that neither bush or kerry takes a strong stand, despite the public sentiment that wants restricted immigration.

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