On the Issues: Immigration

On the Issues: Immigration

Immigration ranks as one of the hot-button issues of the 2008 campaign. How strong are the candidates’ positions?

Though Barack Obama calls immigration raids “ineffective,” Obama voices support for “additional personnel, infrastructure and technology on the border and at our ports of entry.”

He also says “we must fix the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy and increase the number of legal immigrants to keep families together and meet the demand for jobs that employers cannot fill.”

Obama favors “cracking down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants” and wants to allow “undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens.”

Click on the “Issues” button on John McCain’s Website and you won’t find a link labeled “Immigration.” Instead, the topic is labeled “Border Security.”

He says “the federal government has utterly failed in its responsibility” in this area, calls that failure an example of “an ailing Washington culture,” and vows to secure the border.

Beyond border security, McCain’s vision of the topic calls for the U.S. to strengthen its alliances with Latin American countries that “support freedom and democracy” and promote domestic policies that create “abundant economic opportunities for their citizens.”

His priorities also include ensuring that immigrants “recognize the importance of assimilation…which includes learning English, American history and civics, and respecting the values of a democratic society.”

The focus on the flow of immigration across the U.S.-Mexican border goes hand in hand with the idea that immigration issues are directly tied to homeland security. Luis Figueroa, legislative staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, disputes that widely held belief. He argues that the vast majority of immigrants come to the U.S. in search of employment. “The Department of Homeland Security should be focusing on criminals. We spend too much time concentrating on people who come to the U.S. to work and pose no threat,” Figueroa argues. Immigration reform would allow the U.S. to separate the worker issue from homeland security issues so it can “get a handle on the worker situation” and avoid diverting money away from crime control, he adds.

What about immigration-related policies that affect other regions of the world?

Africa’s high rates of HIV, for example, create a barrier that prevents many there from immigrating to or even visiting the US. In 1993, then-President Bill Clinton signed an amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act that classified HIV as “a communicable disease of public health significance.” Because of that amendment, applicants are automatically denied US visas simply because they’re HIV positive. An appeals process can override those denials on a case-by-case basis.

A bill in the current Congress, the HIV Nondiscrimination in Travel and Immigration Act, seeks to reverse that law. McCain opposes the repeal. Obama has voiced support for the bill, though he is not one of its sponsors. But it is sponsored in the Senate by a former presidential contender: 2004 Democratic candidate John Kerry.