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New President, New Congress Mean New Strategies for Immigration Reform

November 9, 2008
Post-Election Edition from FAIR
The political landscape shifted dramatically on Election Day, as Americans elected Barack Obama president and a sizeable Democratic majority to Congress. The results of the elections clearly indicate that the American public did not want to continue certain policies of the past few years. Exit polls indicate that the economy was overwhelmingly the most important issue on voters' minds and they held the Bush Administration largely responsible for the current crisis.

In fact, the mandate from the voters was precisely the opposite. Exit polling conducted by the Zogby International polling group for FAIR found that an overwhelming majority of the electorate opposes amnesty. Moreover, among Obama voters, 67 percent said that his support for amnesty was either not a factor in their choice or that they voted for Obama in spite of his position on amnesty.

Because public opinion weighs so heavily against it, the inauguration of President-elect Obama and a strong Democratic majority in Congress does not necessarily translate into another push for an illegal alien amnesty, or higher levels of immigration. Special interest groups will certainly exert strong pressure on these new lawmakers to do so, and their influence may have grown, but their failure to represent the interests of ordinary Americans will be a significant hindrance. This was proven when true immigration reformers defeated amnesty legislation in 2006 under a Republican Congress and in 2007 under a Democratic Congress.

While the country may be in economic turmoil and Washington going through upheaval, one condition remains unchanged after Election Day: The American public remains adamantly opposed to amnesty and still higher levels of immigration. FAIR, which has successfully battled these efforts in the past - under Republican and Democratic administration and control of Congress - will continue to work for the type of immigration policies the majority of the public supports.

The next two years will be difficult, but there are many reasons to believe that if we continue to work hard and enjoy the support of the American public, the immigration reform movement can weather the storm and emerge even stronger.

President-elect Obama will need the good will of the American people. By most accounts, President-elect Obama will inherit the worst economy since the Great Depression. Getting the nation out of this mess will not be easy or painless. He will have to make many unpopular decisions to right the economy and the last thing he can afford is another legislative battle over an unpopular amnesty or immigration increase.

Economic conditions make amnesty and increased immigration even less popular. When President Bush pushed for amnesty and immigration increases in 2007 he enjoyed a relatively good economy, low unemployment, a robust stock market and rising home values. Even under those circumstances, his plans were stymied by unyielding public opposition. It will be even harder for President Obama to convince the American people to accept such a plan when the economy is a prolonged recession and millions of workers are losing their jobs.

The government is broke. An amnesty program would be a very expensive proposition. The recession and the $700 billion bailout have pushed the federal deficit to new records. There simply isn't the money available to carry out an amnesty program, and there are limits to the size of deficits even the federal government can run.

State and local governments are hurting. Most of the costs of mass immigration and a proposed amnesty would have to be borne by state and local governments. Rising unemployment, plummeting real estate values and other economic factors are hurting their revenues and increasing demands on social programs. In the current economic climate, efforts to enact amnesty or increase immigration could run into stiff opposition from state and local officials.

President Obama will want to keep the blue states blue and newly elected Democrats will want to keep their jobs. Traditionally, off-year elections have not been kind to the party in power. And, many of the districts that elected Democrats have been in traditionally Republican areas, indicating that many new members of Congress will be moderates. A reckless and unpopular amnesty battle could cost many of them their jobs in 2010, and they may resist efforts to bring it up.

None of these factors is a guarantee that mass immigration amnesty lobby and their congressional allies will not try to press for passage of their agenda. But there is also a possibility that the next two years could see some positive changes to our immigration policies as well.

Unemployment and recession could increase political pressure for enforcement measures. E-Verify will come up for reauthorization in March. A bleak economic and employment picture could force Congress and the Obama Administration to renew this highly successful jobs protection program and step-up enforcement against employers because the public demands it.
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The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is a national, nonprofit, public-interest, membership organization of concerned citizens who share a common belief that our nation's immigration policies must be reformed to serve the national interest.

FAIR seeks to improve border security, to stop illegal immigration, and to promote immigration levels consistent with the national interest-more traditional rates of about 300,000 a year.

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