Dems’ Tough New Immigration Pitch

Carrie Budoff Brown, Politico, June 10, 2010

Long pilloried for being soft on illegal immigration, top Democratic officials have concluded there’s only one way they can hope to pass a comprehensive immigration bill:

Talk more like Republicans.

They’re seizing on the work of top Democratic Party operatives who, after a legislative defeat in 2007, launched a multiyear polling project to craft an enforcement-first, law-and-order, limited-compassion pitch that now defines the party’s approach to the issue.

The 12 million people who unlawfully reside the country? Call them “illegal immigrants,” not “undocumented workers,” the pollsters say.

Strip out the empathy, too. Democrats used to offer immigrants “an earned path to citizenship” so hardworking people trying to support their families could “come out of the shadows.” To voters, that sounded like a gift, the operatives concluded.

Now, Democrats emphasize that it’s “unacceptable” to allow 12 million people to live in America illegally and that the government must “require” them to register and “get right with the law.” That means three things: “Obey our laws, learn our language and pay our taxes”–or face deportation.

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President Barack Obama uses the buzzwords. So does the congressional leadership. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), author of the Democratic immigration plan, scolds advocates who refer to illegal immigrants as “undocumented workers.”

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This time around, the message starts with a pledge to secure the borders and crack down on employers. It then moves to this: “It is unacceptable to have 12 million people in our country who are outside the system. We must require illegal immigrants to register for legal status, pay their taxes, learn English and pass criminal background checks to remain in the country and work toward citizenship. Those who have a criminal record or refuse to register should be deported.”

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