As anybody with a TV, radio or newspaper subscription can affirm, the big story coming out of the 2012 election is the long feared/eagerly awaited arrival of the Latino vote as a national political force capable of deciding a presidential contest. Latinos accounted for a record ten percent of the electorate this year, and something north of 70 percent of them cast their ballots for Obama. Meanwhile, fewer Latinos than ever before voted for the Republican candidate. With the Latino segment of the electorate poised to continue expanding for many election cycles to come, leaders of both parties are tripping over each other to position themselves on immigration reform, and even in blood red states like Texas, GOP strategists are warning of imminent doom for their party if Republicans fail to break their cycle of addiction to racism, xenophobia and pandering to border-guarding lunatics.
This year, the presidential election will not hinge on the emotionally divisive issue of immigration.
That's good news for foreign-born residents of the United States. It's good news for everyone who believes that a moral society takes care of its most vulnerable members, forcing no one into the shadows. If the nativist wing of the Republican Party had seen its electoral goals realized, we would have witnessed a Republican primary dominated by a tragic debate about how best to expel the 12 million undocumented immigrants living in America, whether by deporting as many as possible, or by making legal conditions so inhospitable that they leave of their own volition. That debate would have trickled out into the general election, with Republican strategists trying to 'wedge' independent and Democratic-leaning voters with toxic appeals to national chauvinism and racial prejudice masquerading as distinctions of legitimate policy differences. Like the debate over what kinds of prisoner interrogation techniques legally constitute torture, these are the kinds of public discussions we engage in at the cost of our collective soul.
Thankfully, Tom Tancredo never managed to get his first foot off the ground, Giuliani led in early national polls in spite of his well-known history of supporting immigrant rights, and a border state Senator who is famously moderate on the issue (however much he tries to run away from that reputation) will be his party's nominee. The news is not entirely sanguine, however. The momentary absence of anti-immigrant invective in the mainstream does not mean that bigotry does not persist at the margins, leaning ever inward. And taking the spotlight off of immigrants, while affording them some room to breathe, further delays the political moment for meaningful immigration reform.
With groups like FAIR and the Minutemen consigned, for now, back to the political fringe where they belong, and with Latino voters set to play a pivotal role in the fates of the presidential nominees of both parties come November, now is the opportune time to put immigration back into the public debate -- on pro-immigrant terms.
Pending and not-yet-pending legislation affords opportunities to achieve material victories for immigrant families, as well as to reclaim the lost sense of the cultural and economic importance of immigrants in America. In New Jersey, passage of the In-State Tuition Bill would expand education access for foreign-born children, giving immigrant kids a real chance at life, while also fostering a more educated workforce for the state's economy. A similar bill may reach the state legislature in California as well this year. And with a Democrat in the White House and a Democratic majority in Congress, immigrant families could make their greatest gain through a reintroduction of the federal DREAM Act in 2009.
By fixing public attention on the daily struggles of families to improve their futures by securing a quality education for their children -- as familiar an experience to the native-born as to the foreign-born -- advocating for these critically important bills will help put the national debate on immigration back into its proper form: as a discussion about working families. Not criminals, not deviants, not foreign nationalists -- simply families struggling to achieve a common American Dream.
Brave New Foundation hopes to help provoke that discussion by launching a major campaign on the struggles and aspirations of immigrant families in America, beginning with this video. We will continue that discussion on these pages, with future videos throughout the year. Read more at A Dream Deferred.
Brave New Foundation founder Robert Greenwald is a board member of AlterNet's parent organization, the Independent Media Institute.