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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Demonstrations for immigration reform could backfire this year

For the third year in a row, supporters of immigration reform are planning to take to the streets in May Day demonstrations across the United States. But given the unique political landscape of the presidential race, this could be a risky course for la causa.

Most pundits agree that the three remaining presidential candidates do not differ widely in their views on immigration reform. Clinton, McCain, and Obama all favor a guest worker program and some kind of path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States today. The candidates’ only differences lie in how much lip service they pay to border security.

At the same time, the May Day demonstrations of the past two years have typically galvanized support against immigration reform. There’s something about seeing thousands of “foreign-looking” people in the streets that seems to drive the xenophobes into a frenzy. This renewed anti-immigrant furor will likely make McCain to move closer to the nativist camp. Otherwise, he stands to lose the support of far-right Republicans who are already lukewarm to his candidacy. The demonstrations may also raise an outcry from nativist Democrats, forcing Clinton and Obama to backpedal on their support for immigration reform.

Almost certainly, all three candidates would rather avoid a heated debate on immigration during the election. They would probably prefer to build bipartisan support for immigration reform from the White House after winning a mandate. Amping up the immigration controversy during the election season will only harden positions on both sides of a very contentious issue.

In short, forcing the issue of immigration reform into the national spotlight once again could actually weaken its public support among the presidential candidates. It may even make reform more difficult to enact once the new president is elected. The street demonstrations of years past have helped focus attention on the need for immigration reform. However, in this peculiar election year, taking to the streets once again might actually backfire for the proponents of immigration reform.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

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