Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Politics of Permanent Residency v. Citizenship in the Immigration Reform Debate

In states where Republicans are in control of the executive and legislative branches, there have been reports that the state governments are thinking about changing how they delegate the electoral votes for the presidential election. Instead of being winner-take-all electoral states, these states are debating whether to distribute electoral votes proportionally based on a majority vote within a particular congressional district. If all these states had implemented these proposals prior to the 2012 election, Obama would not have been re-elected, even with his sizable popular vote win.

There are certainly some valid arguments why the electoral college should not be winner-take-all by state (except Nebraska and Maine), but it is reasonable to assume that the merits here have been overshadowed by the political benefit that is driving this push.

How could the politics of elections be influencing the current immigration debate? I previously noted that the House Republicans floated a "middle-ground" immigration reform proposal, where unauthorized immigrants would be able to obtain permanent residency but not citizenship. There are certainly some differences between the two, but both provide recipients with the opportunity to remain in the United States legally for the rest of their lives. But, an important distinction is that citizens have the right to vote in presidential elections whereas permanent residents do not.

So while the Republicans have floated the path to permanent residency as a moderate approach, what's not clear is whether the position is grounded in the realization that 1) citizenship will provide voting rights to an additional 11 million people, and 2) most of those people have been leaning toward the Democrats.

But the benefit that a path to citizenship may have for the Democrats' electoral base doesn't tell the whole story. The shellacking Republicans took in the 2012 elections was partially based on how their immigration positions alienated a percentage of the electorate. If the Republicans push for a path to permanent residency and that push is perceived as being grounded in suppressing the votes of certain ethnic groups, then the Republicans risk further alienation and perhaps losing these groups for a generation.  

Without passing judgment on the best course of action - a path to citizenship or a path to permanent residency - hopefully the parties will focus on the merits of the arguments instead of the electoral implications, which, in all reality, they'll probably misread anyway.


No comments:

Post a Comment