This Week In U.S. Immigration Politics – 1/11/16


Politicians took the mainstage this week in various forms – the two major U.S. political parties are both holding televised debates, President Obama gave his last State of the Union while in office, and state and national leaders have continued ongoing discussions of the recent ICE raids. Here are the highlights:

State of the Union: Immigration Gets No Love

Though many hoped President Obama would tackle immigration at some point during his final State of the Union address, the President remained almost entirely mute on the subject. Immigration policy was mentioned only once during the course of the hour-long speech, which focused instead on strides in the economic and environmental sectors. Perhaps looking toward presidential elections in 2016, Obama condemned the gridlock and vitriol in the Republican Party, and called Americans to have hope for change.

Obama did make a point to challenge the notion that immigrants are responsible for wage depression in his comments on the economy, saying “Immigrants aren’t the primary reason wages haven’t gone up enough; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns.” Some reporters have noted, however, that Obama departed from pre-written text to say that immigrants aren’t the “primary” reason for wage depression, and suggest that this departure represents an admission from the administration that immigration does impact labor. As before, economists have responded to this question with conflicting answers. However, most of these experts agree that whether or not immigration deflates wages in any significant way, shareholder priorities and wealth accumulation for company executives pull far greater weight on wage distributions.

Republican Debate: Business as Usual

Unlike the President, Republican contenders for the presidency had a lot to say about U.S. immigration policy. In a turn from previous debates, candidates seemed eager to link immigration policy to threats posed by the Islamic State. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both of whom have supported immigration reform bills in the past (however restrictive), spent a great deal of time calling one another’s credibility into question regarding immigration issues. Rubio went so far as to call Cruz a “traitor” towards the end of the debate. Donald Trump, the unexpected and horrifying frontrunner of the campaign, continued his work of stoking fear about illegal immigration while citing almost no factual information. Taking a page from President Obama’s opponents during his presidential run, Trump called Cruz’ eligibility for office into question because of his birth in Canada. Cruz, the unfortunate victim of the immigration panic he helped create, defended his eligibility as legitimate (a fact supported by immigration policy). (Thursday, Jan. 14, 8pm.)

Democratic Debate: Upcoming Battle
The Democratic Party will hold its next debate this Saturday, with candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley looking to ramp up excitement moving into the Iowa caucuses. While Clinton has been a frontrunner throughout the campaign, poll numbers in both New Hampshire and Iowa show Sanders in a dead heat with the former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State. Both Sanders and O’Malley were quick to condemn and call for halts to the ICE raids of the last few weeks, while Clinton made similar comments this week. Pundits expect that immigration will come up during the debate. (Saturday, Jan. 17, NBC, 8pm.)