In the Nov. 7 national and state elections, voters throughout the US tended to reject candidates who campaigned solely or primarily on an anti-immigrant platform. In exit polls, fewer than one in three voters considered immigration “extremely important” in their decision; those who did consider it important only narrowly favored Republican candidates. According to the exit polls, about six in 10 voters said they believe undocumented immigrants working in the US should get a chance to apply for legal status; 61% of those supporting a path to citizenship voted for Democratic candidates. (Washington Post, Nov. 8)
Exit polls also showed that more than 70% of Latinos voted Democratic in races for House seats, while only 27% voted Republican–an 11-percentage-point drop from the last midterm election in 2002. (Wall Street Journal, Nov. 8)
“The immigration issue upset many Hispanics–the tone of it, the rhetoric, the reactionary solutions, the building of the wall,” said Miami pollster Sergio Bendixen, who tracks Latino voting trends. He called the House GOP’s enforcement-heavy approach a “very, very bad tactical mistake” that could weaken the party for years to come. (Houston Chronicle, Nov. 9)
“With respect to immigration, the Republican Party handed the Democratic Party a gift,” said Democratic activist Andrea LaRue, co-chair of Immigration2006.org. “The GOP’s mishandling of this issue has alienated the fastest growing group of new voters in the nation. Democrats now have a clear opportunity to realize a demographic realignment of historic proportions and redraw the nation’s electoral map for a generation.” (Immigration2006.org press release, Nov. 8)
However, as Roberto Lovato of New America Media noted, “The crop of House and Senate members-elect includes many Democrats whose positions on immigration hardly differ from the “border first” Republicans they ousted. (New America Media, Nov. 9)
“Let’s be honest: There are divisions within the Democrats; it will have to be bipartisan,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, which advocates for immigrants’ rights. (Los Angeles Times, Nov. 9)
Cecilia Munoz, vice president of the National Council of La Raza, which supports a path to citizenship for out-of-status immigrants, said she believes there will be a very different atmosphere on Capitol Hill next year. The election results showed, she said, “that all of the noise made by the anti-immigrant faction in Congress is just that, noise. It doesn’t appear to have the kind of support that these Republicans thought it would.” (Orange County Register, Nov. 9) “The most vitriolic anti-immigration candidates went down in defeat,” said Tamar Jacoby, with the conservative New York think tank Manhattan Institute. (Miami Herald, Nov. 9)
Georgia: Republicans gain, voters split
In Georgia, Republican governor Sonny Perdue easily won reelection, and the Republicans made gains overall in the state. (AP, Nov. 8) Last April 17, Perdue signed a state law that fines employers for hiring undocumented workers, requires companies with state contracts to fire any employee who is not a legal resident and requires state offices to verify an employee’s status before paying unemployment benefits or workers’ compensation. (WP, May 3) Perdue capitalized on his support for that law during the campaign. Still, exit polls in Georgia show 53% of voters believe out-of-status immigrants should have a chance to apply for legal status, while 43% said they should be deported. The responses did not run strictly along party lines. (AP, Nov. 8)
Arizona vote: the good, the bad and the ugly
In Arizona, Democratic governor Janet Napolitano, who has vetoed several anti-immigrant bills passed by the state legislature, easily won re-election. (Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, Nov. 8) Two Arizona congressional races were defeats for anti-immigrant candidates. Democrat Harry Mitchell, a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, defeated hardliner Republican incumbent J.D. Hayworth. (Immigration2006.org press release, Nov. 8) And Democrat Gabrielle Giffords ended 22 years of Republican congressional representation in southern Arizona, handily beating rival Randy Graf, a co-founder of the “Minutemen” vigilante group who had focused his campaign almost exclusively on opposition to “illegal” immigration. Graf even lost in Cochise County, where anti-immigrant sentiment is big and he was expected to do well. Giffords supports a path to citizenship for out-of-status immigrants, but campaigned as tough on border issues and opposed to “amnesty.”
Still, Republican Jon Kyl was reelected to a third term in the US Senate, defeating challenger Jim Pederson; according to an AP exit poll, Kyl’s supporters rated his hard-line stances on immigration and anti-terrorism as the most important factors in their decisions. (ADS, Nov. 8)
And at the same time, by a nearly 3-1 margin, Arizona voters approved four state ballot initiatives that will make life harder for immigrants. Proposition 100 bars the release on bail of out-of-status immigrants charged with serious felonies. Proposition 102 blocks out-of-status immigrants from being able to obtain punitive damages in lawsuits–limiting awards to actual damages. Proposition 103 establishes English as the official language of Arizona. And Proposition 300 blocks undocumented immigrants from accessing state-subsidized programs including adult education and child care. (Arizona Republic, Nov. 9) All four initiatives passed in all of the state’s 15 counties.
Elias Bermudez, president of Immigrants Without Borders in Phoenix, said his group will organize a weeklong work stoppage and economic boycott on Dec. 12 to protest the passage of the ballot initiatives. He said he will also go on a hunger strike.
In Tucson, Latino voters casting ballots at a precinct were approached by “vigilantes,” according to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). MALDEF staff attorney Diego Bernal said Latino voters were stopped as they entered and exited the polls by three men, one carrying a camcorder, one holding a clipboard and one a holstered gun. (ADS, Nov. 8)
Colorado: more ballot initiatives
Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, a national leader of anti-immigrant Republicans in Congress, was reelected to a fifth term. (Rocky Mountain News, Denver, Nov. 8) But Democrats Bill Ritter and Rick Perlmutter, both advocates of comprehensive immigration reform, handily won their races for governor and Congress, respectively, defeating anti-immigrant hardliners. (Immigration2006.org, Nov. 8)
Colorado voters narrowly approved two ballot measures on immigration. Referendum H, which denies a state tax credit to employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers, got 50.8% of the vote, according to unofficial returns. Referendum K, which directs the state attorney general to sue the federal government to demand enforcement of immigration laws, got 56%. (RMN, Nov. 9)
Elsewhere: a mixed bag
In Pennsylvania, Democrat Bob Casey, a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, defeated incumbent hardliner Republican Sen. Rick Santorum by 18 percentage points. Santorum had attacked Casey on immigration during the campaign, even launching a negative website, “www.caseyforamnesty.com.” (Immigration2006.org, Nov. 8) John Hostettler, the Indiana Republican who chaired the House Immigration Subcommittee, was defeated, as were Chris Chocola (R-IN), Anne Northup (R-KY), Melissa Hart (R-PA), Charles Taylor (R-NC), Gil Gutknecht (R-MN) and Richard Pombo (R-CA). Many of those defeated are members of the anti-immigrant “Immigration Reform Caucus” headed by Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo.
In New Jersey, Republican Tom Kean Jr. lost to Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, a strong supporter of immigration reform. In Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson (D) easily defeated challenger Katherine Harris, who had attacked him for his position on immigration. And in Delaware, Sen. Tom Carper (D) decisively defeated challenger Jan Ting, a former immigration official. (Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Nov. 8) New Hampshire Rep. Charlie Bass was another “enforcement-first” Republican who lost his seat. (AR, Nov. 9)
Democratic candidates for governor in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon and Wisconsin were attacked during their campaigns for supporting “illegal immigration,” yet they all won their races. (ILRC, Nov. 8) “The myth that members of Congress need to be afraid of immigration might have been put to rest, because no member of Congress was punished in this election for supporting pro-immigrant legislation,” according to Josh Bernstein, federal policy director of the National Immigration Law Center. (LAT, Nov. 9)
On the other hand, two Republican senators who had supported immigration reform efforts were defeated: Lincoln Chafee (RI) and Mike DeWine (OH). (ILRC, Nov. 8) And several Democrats won with anti-immigrant campaigns: Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill won a Senate seat after campaigning as tough on immigration; and Virginia Democrat Jim Webb unseated Republican Sen. George Allen after accusing him of voting to allow more guest workers into the US. In Pennsylvania, Democrats Patrick Murphy and Chris Carney won House seats after campaigns in which they accused their Republican opponents of being soft on immigration. (LAT, Nov. 9)
From Immigration News Briefs, Nov. 10
See our last posts on the immigration crackdown.