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Thursday, Nov 4, 2010, 2:00 pm

Weekly Diaspora | Immigration Reform Falls to the GOP

By Catherine Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

The precarious fate of comprehensive immigration reform has fallen into the hands of staunch nativists. With Republicans now leading the House and a new crop of anti-immigrant governors stepping up to bat, the road to immigration reform just became more arduous than ever.

The results of the mid-term elections are a heavy blow to immigration reform advocates who have recently contended with a DREAM Act defeat, a pandemic of state-level anti-immigrant measures, attempts to stifle Latino votes, and an allegedly disaffected Latino electorate. And, to add insult to injury, the election season was tainted by a slew of race-baiting campaign aids and sensational anti-immigrant soundbytes (AlterNet has the rundown).

But, amid the upset, there is some hope. Despite pessimistic predictions, Latinos voters defiantly flexed their electoral muscle, effectively creating a "Latino firewall in the west" that helped save the Senate for Democrats, according to Elena Shore at New America Media. Moreover, numerous anti-immigrant measures are finally getting their day in court—though the results of those hearings may be as mixed as the outcome of this election.

Immigration reform in the hands of House Republicans

While Democrats retained control of the Senate, the Republican seizure of the House bodes ill for comprehensive immigration reform.

As Elise Foley note at the Washington Independent, immigration legislation will now be at the mercy of John Boehner (R-OH), the new speaker of the house, and Representative Steve King (R-IA), who will now chair the immigration subcommittee. Both legislators oppose comprehensive reform and will likely project their shared anti-immigrant agenda on House legislation:

King tends to be on the extreme end of anti-illegal immigration rhetoric: He favors changes to birthright citizenship to keep U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants from receiving citizenship and argues more states should pass immigration crackdowns like Arizona’s SB 1070. King has pushed for more border enforcement and an electrified fence along the border to keep illegal immigrants out. “We do that with livestock all the time,” he said. […]

Of course, King won’t have ultimate power over the House Republicans’ priorities on immigration. Boehner will set a good deal of the agenda, and is likely to follow some of the plans hinted at in the Pledge to America, a vague but enforcement-heavy document released in September.

Foley also reports that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which supports comprehensive immigration reform, lost three House members this election—Reps. John Salazar (D-CO), Solomon Ortiz (D-TX) and Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX).

An influx of anti-immigrant governors

State gubernatorial races proved similarly disappointing for reform advocates, as a host of anti-immigrant candidates were propelled into office on a wave of Tea Party-backed, anti-immigrant sentiment.

Just before the election, Mother Jones’ Suzy Khimm profiled a series of anti-immigrant gubernatorial front runners, most of whom ended up winning.

In Georgia, a state poised to replicate Arizona’s SB 1070, the governor’s seat went to Nathan Deal, “an early supporter of a birthright citizenship bill that would deny granting citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants.” Moreover, in Nevada and New Mexico, two anti-immigrant Latino candidates prevailed: Susana Martinez (R-NM), who was endorsed by Sarah Palin and accused her opponent of defending child-molesting “criminal illegals,” and Brian Sandoval (R-NV), who supports SB-1070 and famously bragged that his children “don’t look Hispanic.”

Brewer skips town to attend SB 1070 hearing

Meanwhile, Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ) retained her governorship this week, in spite of some really disastrous campaigning. Fittingly, Brewer spent election day appealing the federal injunction issued against SB 1070, the harsh anti-immigrant law that made her famous, last spring.

New America Media’s Valeria Fernández reports that Terry Goddard, Arizona’s current attorney general and democratic gubernatorial candidate, blasted Brewer’s decision to attend the SB 1070 hearing and suggested that her relentless defense of the anti-immigrant law has more to do with her connections to the private prison industry than her concern over public safety:

Goddard pointed to Brewer’s staff—including political advisor Chuck Coughlin, president of High Ground Public Affairs, which also represents Correction Corporation of America (CCA), the country’s largest private-prison company —as evidence that she is more concerned with helping private business make a profit than with public safety.

Goddard isn’t the first to make such a claim. Media outlets have reported on Arizona legislators’ suspicious connections to the private prison industry for several months. In June, Beau Hodai revealed for In These Times how SB 1070 was steered and shaped by private prison lobbyists:

… the bill’s promoters are as equally dedicated to border politics as they are to promoting the fortunes of private prison companies, like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Geo Group, which stand to reap substantial profits as more undocumented residents end up in jail.

Hodai’s findings were further validated by a much-publicized NPR investigation last week.

All of the bad press has done little to hurt Brewer, however. She retained her governorship and managed to collect $3 million in private donations to continue defending SB 1070, which she is prepared to take all the way to the Supreme Court.

Of course, that may not be necessary—as Fernández notes, “longtime legal observers who watched the hearing said the judges seemed to be leaning toward partially reinstating the provisions” previously thrown out by federal Judge Susan Bolton. It's still too soon to tell for sure, but preliminary indicators suggest that legal challenges to recently passed anti-immigrant legislation will obtain mixed results. Two lawsuits against SB 1070 have already been dismissed, while several other anti-immigrant measures have recently been overturned, blocked, or delayed by federal judges.

The fight for comprehensive immigration reform has clearly taken a big hit on all fronts—not least of which, electorally. But while election results were disappointing for reform advocates, they also clearly demonstrated the undeniable electoral might of Latinos—who, in spite of low expectations, came out in strong numbers and disproportionately supported pro-immigration candidates. It's not over till it's over.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse . This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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