Immigration Is Tricky Issue for Presidential Candidates

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We blogged back in July about how outsourcing was becoming a key issue of the 2008 presidential election. Immigration -- both legal and illegal -- was still in the headlines following the defeat of a sweeping reform proposal, with lawmakers from both parties willing to pander to Americans' fear of immigrants coming into the U.S. to take their jobs.


The same fear -- albeit with a different geography -- is there with outsourcing.


Both outsourcing and immigration are finding their way into candidates' campaign rhetoric. The issues figure prominently in a local newspaper's coverage of a campaign stop by Republican Rudy Giuliani in Laconia, New Hampshire.


Though Giuliani's GOP opponents have tried to portray him as not tough enough on illegal immigration, Giuliani reassured attendees of the town-hall style forum that he plans to deter illegal immigration with an identification card program and technological advances for border patrol forces.


Giuliani also played to the Republican faithful by saying that a 7 percent reduction in corporate taxes would do much to convince American companies to keep more jobs in the U.S. rather than outsourcing them to foreign countries.


Democrats have it even tougher than Republican candidates because of their need to "craft messages acceptable to two traditionally 'blue' groups: labor unions, which are often vocal opponents of outsourcing, and high-tech companies, which tend to be pro-outsourcing," as we wrote in July.


The Huffington Post blogger Paul Jenkins puts it in far blunter terms, saying that Dems must "perform a strange, convoluted dance that allows them to communicate in code to their often xenophobic native-born base" when discussing immigration and outsourcing.


Jenkins says the problem with both parties -- but especially Democrats -- is their shortsighted views on these issues. The result for the Dems, he predicts, will be alienated first- and second-generation immigrant constituents. These folks voted in large numbers for George W. Bush, in both the 1998 Texas gubernatorial election and the 2000 presidential race.


Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) gets Jenkins' vote for the savviest handling thus far of these highly charged political issues. He writes:

A little further down the road, though, Democrats should have tremendous fear about their uncertain handling of immigration, free trade, and foreign wars, as they cannot rely on Republicans' inane prejudice alone to motivate the growing number of first and second generation immigrant voters, or to generate goodwill with the U.S.'s international partners. Perhaps, in that sense at least, the Democrats' best hope is Barack Obama, who has so far managed these issues with the most grace and intelligence (surely due in no little part to his own multinational and multi-ethnic background), campaigning in a way that does not dismiss or patronize immigrants and foreigners, and pays due respect and priority to all U.S. workers.