The Politics Of Illegal Immigration

Illegal Immigration has been one of Hillary Clinton’s pet issues lately and now Virginia Governor Mark Warner is getting in on the act:

“Virginia Gov. Mark Warner yesterday signed into law a measure that denies illegal aliens public benefits, including access to Medicaid, welfare and local health care services.”

Politically, going after illegals may be one of the smartest things the Democrats have done in years. Here’s why:

Pro-illegal Republicans pull in big bucks from business contributors who want the supply of cheap labor to keep rolling in. Plus, the general feeling is that being soft on illegals helps Republicans pick up Latino votes. Furthermore, since the Democrats are even friendlier to illegals, whom they see as a possible source of votes, than Republicans, the GOP has escaped the wrath of the voters, who have been shown in poll after poll after poll to be adamantly against illegal immigration. So quite frankly, it’s understandable that some Republicans think they’re not going to have to pay a political price for looking the other way on the illegal immigration issue.

However, the dynamics of this issue change rather dramatically if Democrats start taking a tough line on illegal immigrants. Latinos were projected to only account for something like 6.1% of the votes in the 2004 election. So even if a pro-illegal immigration stance moves the Latino vote a few points in your direction, it’s still going to have a relatively small impact (although admittedly bigger in some areas than others).

The flip side of this is that polls show a large majority of people in the U.S. are very much against illegal immigration. So if you have a situation that features a Democrat who’s tough on illegal immigration going up against a Republican, like George Bush, who’s not serious about the issue, you could see the Democrats peel off quite a few potential Republican voters without taking a major beating with Latino voters, whom polling shows are much more split on illegal immigration than most people assume.

How much of a difference do I think this issue could make? Had John Kerry been rabidly against illegal immigration instead of being even friendlier to illegals than President Bush, he would probably be President today. If Hillary Clinton keeps talking tough on illegals (and backs it up with votes) & were fortunate enough to run against a pro-illegal Republican like John McCain, I think it’s not just entirely possible, BUT LIKELY, that she would ride that issue right into the White House.

The Republicans who’ve being politically penny wise and pound foolish on illegal immigration had better hope that Democrats like Hillary and Warner who’re getting tough on illegals are just exceptions to the rule instead of the start of a trend because this is an issue that could cost the GOP a lot of elections if the Democrats are smart enough to figure it out.

Hat tip to Cold Fury for the Warner story.

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