By R. Mark Frey
With the approach of Election Day (Tuesday, November 6), we should take time to examine the treatment of immigration and immigrants in the campaign platforms of the Republican and Democratic parties, drawing attention to each and evaluating the clear distinctions and priorities. Ultimately, each of us needs to decide what’s best for the country and which party is better prepared to handle the challenges we face in the coming years.
The Republican Party declares in its preamble:
[This platform affirms that America has been a place of grand dreams and even grander realities; and so it be again, if we return government to its proper role, making it smaller and smarter. If we restructure government’s most important domestic programs to avoid their fiscal collapse. If we keep taxation, litigation, and regulation to a minimum. If we celebrate success, entrepreneurship, and innovation. If we lift up the middle class. If we hand over to the next generation a legacy of growth and prosperity, rather than entitlements and indebtedness.]
The Democratic Party platform proclaims:
[As Americans, we are bound together by more than nationality or geography. We are bound by a shared set of ideals and values rooted in the notion that we are greater together; that our collective efforts produce something better than the sum of our individual actions; and that together, rather than divided, we can overcome the greatest challenges that come our way.]
With those two seemingly disparate visions, what do the two parties tell us specifically about immigrants and immigration?
For the Republican Party, enforcement is the key. It believes top priority should be given to security at our borders and ports of entry in order to stop “illegal” immigrants, drug traffickers, criminal gangs, and terrorists. This encompasses stiffer penalties for those engaged in ID theft, human trafficking, and the manufacture and sale of fraudulent documents. At the same time, states should be given license to control immigration within their own borders through passage of state immigration laws and authority to pursue “illegal” immigrants.
The Republican Party platform voices strong opposition to President Obama’s June 15, 2012 decision allowing certain individuals who came to the U.S. as children to apply for “deferred action” on enforcement of immigration laws, and to apply for employment authorization. The Republican leadership contends, in effect, that he’s implemented a backdoor form of amnesty. Still, within the enforcement sphere, the Republican Party calls for denial of federal funding to those cities refusing to cooperate with the Department of Homeland Security by providing local enforcement officers as surrogate Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to track down “illegal” immigrants.
In the employment realm, the Republican Party supports the nationwide use of both the E-Verify and SAVE internet-based programs. (The E-Verify system allows employers to determine their employees’ eligibility to work in the U.S., while the SAVE program helps federal, state, and local agencies as well as institutions and licensing agencies determine applicants’ eligibility for benefits).
The Republican Party calls additionally for an increase in the annual number of visas available to those holding advanced degrees in science technology, engineering, and mathematics as well as the introduction of a guest worker program to respond to and meet the fluctuating labor needs of the U.S. Finally, the Republican Party supports English as our nation’s official language which is “a unifying force essential for the educational and economic advancement of — not only immigrant communities–but also our nation as a whole.”
In contrast, the Democratic Party’s platform is more of a mixed bag on the issue of immigration; calling for both enforcement and reform of current laws, working towards family unification, and integrating immigrants into society at large. Enforcement prioritizes resource allocation to the deportation of criminal immigrants presenting a threat to the larger community rather than those who do not. At the same time, the Democratic Party calls for holding employers accountable for those they hire as their employees.
The Democratic Party opposes state-level immigration laws that interfere with federal immigration laws and enforcement efforts. As a result, it contends that the nation’s “southwest border is more secure than at any time in the past 20 years. Unlawful crossings are at a 40-year low, and the Border Patrol is better staffed than at any time in its history.”
The Democratic Party platform advocates comprehensive immigration reform, bringing undocumented immigrants in from the shadows, requiring them to “get right with the law,” learn English, pay taxes in order to get onto the so-called “path to citizenship”, and ultimately become integrated into our society. At the same time, it asserts that we need a more effective system for the allocation of visas that meets the country’s economic needs, keeps families (including those in LGBT relationships) together, and enforces the law.
The Democratic Party platform supports the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a “path to citizenship” bill for young adult children of non-citizens, people who were brought to the U.S. as minors and educated in this country. It also supports continued provision for “deferred action” on immigration enforcement for those who entered the U.S. as children through no fault of their own, have grown up as Americans, and are now ready to make a contribution to this nation.
There is much at stake in this year’s election with real and substantive differences in the two parties’ visions for America. We will all be affected by the outcome for many years to come. Keep that in mind and know we are voting not only for ourselves but also our children, our grandchildren, and the promise of America.
A version of this article was initially published in the Fall 2012 Issue of Korean Quarterly.