There has been so much immigration “noise” in this presidential campaign that many who care about this issue have simply tuned out the candidates. The Republicans have had positions ranging from extreme xenophobia to modestly pro-immigration. But for the most part, the anti-immigration rhetoric has been getting the headlines and it is not encouraging that the two most anti-immigration candidates in this race – Cruz and Trump – captured more than half of all the votes cast for the 12 candidates. Some pro-immigrant advocates voiced hope that Marco Rubio’s respectable third place might mean that the GOP immigration moderates have a chance. But Rubio’s dramatic rejection of his own comprehensive immigration bill will not easily be forgotten. And the other immigration moderates in the GOP had a terrible night (though one of the more anti-immigration candidates, Mike Huckabee, called it quits).
New Hampshire’s Republican primary will hopefully change the narrative. The state is far more moderate than Iowa and its voters have typically thumbed their noses at their counterparts in Iowa. Though Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and John Kasich, three of the more pro-immigration GOP candidates, did poorly in Iowa, they each stand a better chance of a decent showing next Tuesday. I’ll be looking at the combined vote totals of the immigration sort of moderates (Rubio, Christie, Bush, Fiorina, Kasich and Paul) versus the clearly anti-immigrant candidates (Cruz, Trump, Carson, Santorum). If the latter garner less than 50% of the total, that will be a good sign.
On the Democratic side, we say goodbye to Martin O’Malley, the most pro-immigration candidate of this cycle and perhaps one of the most pro-immigration candidates in modern history. But he had difficulty gaining traction on this issue because the other two candidates have also been staking out pro-immigration positions. Both Clinton and Sanders have some immigration baggage from the past. Clinton was in the cabinet when President Obama was engaged in a relentless deportation campaign and when she was in the Senate in New York, she’s remembered for opposing drivers licenses being granted to the undocumented. But her position on immigration reform has generally been pretty good for many years. And she’s used the recent family immigration raids as an issue about which to criticize the President.
Bernie Sanders has a more troubling immigration history. He voted against comprehensive immigration reform which is seen by many as heretical for a Democrat. He claimed it was because the guest worker provisions were unfair to American workers. But, frankly, this was Ted Kennedy’s bill and Kennedy was about as pro-labor of a Senator as they come. Sanders has voted many times in the past with anti-immigration Senators on legal immigration bills and he’s sponsored some really troublesome bills including one that would have raised the H-1B filing fee to $8000. Sanders has been doing his best not to talk about these positions and you will not hear him talking about these votes or bill sponsorships. Unlike Clinton who has made it clear she is pro-immigration across the board, Sanders is simply avoiding discussing the legal immigration system. Sanders has made a point of heavily courting young Latino activists, but I don’t see the pro-immigration community coming out to support him until he forcefully breaks from his past.
Sanders is considered a favorite in New Hampshire because he’s from nearby Vermont. And it’s a state that is nearly as white as Iowa and immigration is not likely to be a major issue in the vote. The real test will come the next week in Nevada. It’s a caucus state, like Iowa, and that probably favors Sanders. On the other hand, it’s got a large Latino electorate which ought to favor Clinton. If Sanders were to do well in that race, the Clinton folks might want to start worrying.