Monday, May 11, 2009

New Citizens to Impact Politics and Public Policy

Last year more than a million immigrants became U.S. citizens. The largest group, of course, were Mexicans, but the next four large groups were Latino or Asian. The greatest numbers were predictably in California, Florida, New York and Texas. There were 300,000 newly sworn-in citizens in California. And since that states seems to lead the nation in every trend from fashion to auto emission curbs, many are looking to see what impact the new voters will have on politics and public policy in that state. Immigrant participation in last year's election was larger than in the past, and those votes favored the Democratic candidates substantially. Much of that is considered an "identity vote" -- a reaction to Republican opposition to immigration reform and the stereotyping of the Latino community that accompanied the campaign. Asian new voters, generally considered a more conservative lot, also went for Obama and the Democrats. But on public policy issues, they have generally supported an increased role of government in health care and education. The impact of the new immigrant vote is still speculative, especially as the Latino vote turns from "image" to "issues".

Still that impact will be great. The Los Angeles Times speculated on what that might be. Already the number of Latino office holders is growing, and after 2026 the current minority of the state's population will have passed to be the majority. There will be an expected fragmentation of the vote along income and ethnic lines. While the growth of the Latino or Asian vote can be impressive, it's still speculative as to what it will mean in terms of public policy. To take advantage the Republicans will have to move away from "nay-saying" on immigration and to issues that really concern the immigration -- jobs, small business, education and health. Democrats have repeated the benefits in the last election, so that young. ambitious Larino politicians pursue their futures in that party. But the Latino voter may not stay with the Democrats for long. There are conflicts on family and cultural issues. George W. Bush was intially successful in cutting into the Latino vote in running for governor of Texas and later for president. More than 8 million eligible citizens are still outside the electoral process, so that it much too early to concede the immigrant vote -- Latino or Asian -- to one party or even to one set of issues. Then, that's pretty much what happened to the European immigrants. Actually, comprehensive immigration reform could be used by Republican as the "wedge issue" to seperate the immigrant vote from the Democrats.

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