Week 4: The Current Policy Debate

October 1—5, 2007

Faculty: Allert Brown-Gort

Associate Director, Institute for Latino Studies
Fellow, Kellogg Institute for International Studies

Listen to the podcast (MP3 format, total running time: 00:18:00)

The readings:

George J. Borjas, "The New Economics of Immigration: Affluent Americans Gain, Poor Americans Lose," Atlantic Monthly (November 1996). [SEE .PDF]

Also in The Migration Reader: Exploring Politics and Policies, ed. Anthony M. Messina and Gallya Lahav (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2006), 318-328.

Ray Marshall, "Getting Immigration Reform Right," Economic Policy Institute (EPI) Briefing Paper #186, 15 March 2007. Available at http://www.sharedprosperity.org/bp186.html

Douglas S. Massey, Testimony, United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Comprehensive Immigration Reform II, 18 October 2005. Available at http://judiciary.senate.gov/testimony.cfm?id=1634&wit_id=4715

Aristide R. Zolberg, with "A Nation by Design: Immigration Policy in the Fashioning of America."


Allert Brown-Gort [photo]

Associate Director, Institute for Latino Studies, and a Fellow of the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at Notre Dame and a native of Mexico, Brown-Gort taught in the International Relations Department of the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM) in Mexico City while serving as Deputy Director of its North American Public Policy Studies Program (PARMEC), which seeks to study the changes in the political processes and public opinion in the three countries regarding North American issues. Prior to this Brown-Gort, worked at Columbia University, in charge of the Latin American Initiative of the Conservation Education Programs, and for the president of Televisa in Mexico City.

Geographic focus: Latin America (Mexico, Brazil, Southern Cone)

Thematic interests: Role of culture in shaping values and political systems; civil service reform; political views of Mexican nationals in the United States.

Current research: A national qualitative study of the opinions of the Mexican migrant and Mexican American communities on immigration issues, including the creation of a new guest-worker program, the possibility for amnesty for undocumented workers, and possible political consequences; an Inter-American project on civil service reform

For more information: http://www.nd.edu/~latino/

Online Discussion

Previous Questions

Good morning Allert, thank you so much for your comments very enlightening. However, I have one question given your comments: "Where do we start and who do we start with?" Peace

In the interest of transparency, I must tell readers that I contacted Ms. Gonzalez (whom I know) to clarify this question, and that what she referred to was “starting to fix the divisions caused by the immigration debate.”

Marilu Gonzalez

Dear Marilu:

Many thanks for your question, you were the first! Appropriately, this is a very broad question that has a multiplicity of answers.

Perhaps the first part is to understand that immigration itself is not always defined as a problem. In different countries (including the United States), and at different times, it has been seen as a positive phenomenon. The factors that usually determine whether or not it is defined as a problem, broadly speaking, are the health of the economy, and the size of the immigrant population relative to the population as a whole.

This last factor is more conditioned to the culture of the host society, as can be seen by the relative percentages of the immigrant population that are considered “comfortable” by different societies. For example, Japan has a very low tolerance for immigration, considering native-born Japanese who grew up abroad near-foreigners, and has third-generation Japanese-born people of Korean ancestry who are still considered Koreans. Canada, on the other end of the spectrum, apparently easily accepts that more than half of the population of Toronto, its largest city, was born abroad. The United States historically falls towards the higher range of the scale, although the proportion of foreign-born has varied widely, from less than five percent in the early 70s, to around 12 percent today.

What is odd about the discussion on immigration today in the U.S., is the fact that it has become such a visceral issue when the economy is performing fairly well, and when the population has not yet reached the peaks it had during the early part of the 20th century.

There are many possible answers, but I will highlight the two that I think are most relevant.

The first is that — as many vexed White House advisors will tell you — the economy is doing well, but people do not seem to believe it. The reality is that the economic gain over the past two decades has been uneven, with increasing inequality, and with increased insecurity for those in the middle class. The U.S. economy has been undergoing massive transformations, and this leads to uncertainties in different industries (e.g. the shift from agriculture to agro-industry) and different geographical regions. At the same time immigration has increased, partially as a result of openings caused by these transformations. This leads to a sense of causality for many residents: if there are more immigrants just as one is having a difficult time finding a new job, then “they” must be taking “our” jobs.

The second is that never before in the history of this country has it been so difficult to acquire permission to enter at the same time as there is a great demand for immigrant labor. The United States had very restrictive immigration policies in the 30s, but with the world in the midst of the Great Depression, there were no jobs to be had even for native-born workers. Now jobs in certain sectors (agriculture, construction, service industries) are plentiful, but permission for the people with the formal educational level to fill them are not. This has been one of the principal reasons for the rise of “illegality”, and this has led to widening perception of the immigrant as a criminal. And if the immigrant is a criminal, then s/he is here to take.

So, where is the fix, where do we start?

In this regard, I think that Prof. Marshall is absolutely correct, when he writes that “The foundation for an effective immigration policy is to recognize the power of the forces perpetuating unauthorized immigration and find ways to authorize the flows and make immigration an integral component of economic and social policies to promote broadly shared prosperity in the United States, Mexico, and other countries.”

Who we start with is also part of the debate. To many, the obvious answer is to begin with the immigrants, and to make them stay home. To others, we should start with Mexico, or the other sending countries. But I think this misses the point that there is a mutuality of responsibility.

The way in which we now discuss immigration gives total responsibility to the immigrant as it totally absolves Americans. At best, there is some recognition that they are caught up in a system that forces them to emigrate. Therefore, we hear that if Mexico could only create more jobs, if Mexico could only develop itself, if Mexico could only . . . All of this is true — but the reality is that if the economic fairy godmother changed Mexico into a first-world economy overnight, the United States would still have an immigration problem, albeit one with different nationalities.

When we discuss immigration in this country, we tend to only talk about the factors that affect supply. In doing so we forget the first law of economics: Supply and demand must be in balance. If this is so, then we must think about the responsibility that we have in the U.S. for the current levels of immigration.

If we are to solve the political and social impasse regarding the issue in this country, we need to have a clear understanding of the many ways in which immigrants (and perhaps more importantly their children) contribute to our standard of living and to the survival of many businesses that could not otherwise find workers. If as a society we wish to benefit from the labor of immigrants, then we should honor the laborer by giving her or him a reasonable way to enter this country legally. If as a society we do not wish the labor of immigrants, we should be willing to pay the price. What is not just is to benefit from the labor of the very immigrant that is being demonized.

It seems to me that who we start with, then, is with everybody (in both the sending and host societies) recognizing that they are an integral part of the process — at the national, social and individual level — and that it is not just the immigrants themselves that are the problem (if indeed there is a problem…).

Another important author and one of his best books: Aristide R. Zolberg, with "A Nation by Design: Immigration Policy in the Fashioning of America."

Professor Brown-Gort

Professor Brown-Gort, I have several questions.

You talked about "social pathologies" in the podcast. Have these changed over time--were they different for immigrants of 100 years ago? Some pressures are probably similar--such as learning the language. But are there pressures that are new to today's immigrants--ones that, say, my grandmother did not have to deal with, which create or lead to certain social pathologies?

At the same time, are there better opportunities now for immigrants when contrasted with the past?

Also, what can we learn from the immigration issues that European countries, such as England, France, and Germany face?

Finally, can you suggest authors who write about this topic from a point of view that you find elucidating?

Christine Marie Babick

Dear Ms. Babick:

Thank you for taking the time to ask some very insightful questions.

By “social pathologies,” I think I was referring in the podcast to the mental stress and family disintegration that are the dark side of the generally optimistic immigrant narrative that we have in our country. But I think the scope you give it is the correct one.

As you have observed in your question, most of the "social pathologies" that afflict immigrant life were present 100 years ago and are essentially the same today. Being an immigrant has always posed challenges. Traditionally these challenges have included (as you point out) learning a new language, starting with a lower educational attainment, overwork, and the fact that immigrants have to adapt to a new society with new customs and for the most part lack any significant social capital or the close-knit social nets that are inherited and developed throughout a lifetime. Children are often left unsupervised, and turning to gangs is not uncommon. The result is a terrible vulnerability.

To see that this has ever been thus, one only need to pick up a book of Jacob Riis' photographs of the New York tenements, or “Gangs of New York” (the book, not the movie, although both make the point that the native born gangs have a penchant for going after immigrants). This list would not be complete without Upton Sinclair's “The Jungle”. In “The Jungle,”the Rudkus family is cheated, exploited, and marginalized, and their family is destroyed (if memory serves, it has been a long time) through alcoholism, domestic violence, and prostitution.

In general, immigrants often have a difficult time familiarizing themselves with the structures and mechanisms within society that they can use beneficially and often avoid them all together.

However, I would argue that today there is a significant difference, if not in "social pathologies” themselves, then in the structures that make those pathologies more prevalent. Today's immigrant is entering a different educational environment than that of your Grandmother's generation. Not only was the gap in educational attainment between immigrants and native workers far less then, but formal and higher education was not as widespread. Today's immigrants are entering a social structure in which the educational achievement of natives not only far surpasses their own, but also one in which the formalization of educational attainment (through degrees and diplomas), the resulting credentialization, and the disappearance of most on-the-job training, makes catching up in most cases almost impossible. The hardening line between formal and informal education is probably the biggest difference immigrants face today that they did not similarly face in the past. And this inability to catch up in education means that economic opportunity will probably not come as quickly, and allow following generations to fall more easily in the dysfunctional behaviours that are sometimes referred to as the culture of poverty.

You also ask if there are better opportunities now for immigrants as opposed to the past. Opportunities are a bit different today. The biggest difference is the host society into which immigrants arrive. In almost any way one can think of, this is a much more open, less racist and classist society than that that which existed a hundred years ago.

A practical example of the benefits of this more open society are to be seen in the housing market. Large cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami are still absorbing large quantities of immigrants all the while these immigrants are finding the ability to buy houses, and so enter into the process of asset accumulation. Certainly this openness has also benefited the educational outlook of many children of immigrants with regards to admissions policies at the country's leading universities.

As to what can we learn from the immigration issues that European countries face, perhaps we can learn the most from their mixed record. To begin with, European countries such as England, France, and Germany illustrate the consequences of globalization. Whatever one's take on globalization, it is true that free market forces impact not only the movement of goods and services, but also the movement of people. The successful development of the European Union has been in part thanks to the understanding that a market economy must have the freedom of movement of all three, goods, services, and labor to be wholly effective.

This does not mean that it has not been a contentious issue. Immigration in Europe is also responding to severe demographic deflation. Europe's birth rates have been falling for years, and although expansion of the EU has allowed for more migration within Europe (from Eastern to Western countries), that well is fairly dry, and many migrants are now coming from Africa and Asia. This has increased tensions in many countries, such as evidenced by the struggles felt in Holland (and increasingly in Denmark and of course, the UK) with its large Muslim immigrant community.

In a more specific way (although these remain rather bold generalizations), recent problems in France and Germany, and recent successes in Spain and Ireland have showed that there are certain visions of nationality and identity that impact how quickly and how well immigrants can integrate into society. In Germany for example the idea of nationality is tied to blood as opposed to birthplace. France has a completely assimilationist vision that denies that there could be any difference whatsoever between an immigrant and a French person. Spain is much more willing to be culturally syncretic, and together with Ireland, both demonstrate an impressive management of their change from sending to receiving societies within the span of a short 20 years.

Finally you ask about authors, and there are too many, but here is a short list:

Douglas Massey and Jorge Durand, primarily on the structural issues regarding immigration, and on the consequences of policy actions. I recommend especially “Beyond Smoke and Mirrors Mexican Immigration in an Era of Economic Integration”.

Mae Ngai, on the construction of “illegality” in American immigration policy, particularly good is “Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America”. One of my favourite short articles is “How Grandma Got Legal”.

I have recently become a great fan of Dowell Myers. He recently wrote a book called “Immigrants and Boomers” which attempts to look at the future impact of today's immigrants, and really places the debate on a different level. The article on the Forum webpage from the Wall Street Journal, “Good Life of Boomers Tied to Better Life for Immigrants”, is about his book.

On border policy as it relates to immigration, I would recommend Peter Andreas' “Border Games”.

On the issue of economic mobility, I would recommend “Italians Then, Mexicans Now” by Joel Perlmann.

And last, at least for now, Roger Daniels on immigration policy. He apparently arrived at immigration working back from racism to Japanese internment during WWII, to Asians in the U.S. “Guarding the Golden Door”, and “Debating American Immigration” are two of his books I have consulted often.

Professor Brown-Gort

Aristide R. Zolberg, with "A Nation by Design: Immigration Policy in the Fashioning of America."

How can Mr. Massey claim that stricter border security has caused more deaths? Illegal immigrants have responsibility for themselves. If they choose to risk their lives in the desert it is not America's fault. Is personal responsibility still emphasized there? Is there still a course in Logic at UND?

Benedict J. Lucchese

Dear Mr. Lucchese:

One of the main points of Prof, Massey's testimony is that there are unintended consequences to many public policies, in this case, immigration policy. This particular consequence, however, was not at all unintended. Indeed there are planning documents for the border-hardening operations in the 1990s that expressly state that we should expect to see the number of deaths at the border to rise. It was not that the planners were callous heartless bureaucrats, rather they were operating under certain strict constraints. Their constraints were centered on the inability of the political system of the United States to come up with a mechanism to make immigration policy come in line with a variety of economic and demographic realities that began to emerge during the decade of the 80s and accelerated during the last two decades.

While Mexico's rural economy had been suffering and finally imploded under NAFTA, and the Central American countries were suffering the security and economic effects of prolonged cvil wars, the whole region was in the midst of a baby boom that began in the 60s and lasted to the early 80s. At the same time, the U.S. economy was undergoing a radical transformation, and was having demographic issues of its own. All of this was taking place under the backdrop of increasing North American integration.

Thus the basic logic in Prof. Massey's claims that stricter border security had caused more deaths is based on the fact that the hardening of the border was a political response to the symptoms, and not the root causes, of an increase in undocumented immigration.

In terms of personal responsibility, it is true that it is the immigrants who choose to put themselves in that situation. Nevertheless, we need to ask ourselves about the economic and political forces in operation that may force a person into that position. To begin with, there is the question of the economic possibilities in the home country, and how much control the immigrant has over that system. Economically, also, we need to recognize that — while there is a considerable supply of people willing to risk their lives to come to this country and work — that there is also an equal demand to entice people to do so. By this, we do not mean the temptations of consumption in a rich country, although it would be naive to deny that there was some of that. Rather, it is the fact that the system was designed by default so that if people could just cross the border, they would be offered jobs — not just one, two if they wished, or even three if they could take the rhythm.

Perhaps we can shed some light on the issue if we separate it from such a visceral topic as immigration. We could ask, for example, who is responsible when an industrial worker, who labored at a factory for decades, is left jobless when her function is suddenly outsourced to China?

We could say that she was, because she did not have the foresight to know which ways the economic currents were flowing, or because she just did not study hard enough to have a job that was essentially export-proof. She did, after all, put herself in that position.

Or, if it is the action itself that is important, then we could blame the factory owners, because they actually did the outsourcing. They can also be held responsible for putting profits before people, or for not being smart enough to run their business in the United States and remain competitive.

But others could be held responsible.

We could say that it was the Chinese's fault, for aggressively developing their industrial base, and for having so many workers that labor was cheap.

We could hold the managers and stockholders of WalMart personally responsible for being so tough on their suppliers that many of them have been forced to send their production off-shore.

We could always blame the majority of American citizens, because collectively they would rather buy cheap imports than more costly items produced in this country. Or we could blame the people who voted to put our political leaders in place, when they have failed the American worker.

The reality is that there is enough responsibility to go around, and indeed, one could argue that their responsibility was driven by their personal responsibility to maximize the money they made. But, at some point, surely the issue is not who is responsible, but rather what we will do about it.

Similarly, there are many people responsible for undocumented immigration, in both the sending and the receiving country. Under the circumstances, it seems that the logic of personal responsibility would demand that everyone accept their part in the drama of illegality, and that we could then try to figure out what to do.


Dear Professor,

What responsibility is borne, in the sense of policies and principles, by a country from which many people are fleeing as emigrants? It seems that many times we should welcome newcomers not so much as "immigrants" (a largely economic term) and more as "refugees" (a morally evocative word) from countries that are failing in their responsibilities to their own people, to their inherent need for a living wage and their inherent right to human dignity. Please talk about the difference in how the world sees "refugees" and "immigrants."

Bill Gerards

Dear Mr. Gerards:

Thank you very much for taking the time to ask these important questions, but if I may, I would like to reverse order, and start with the last question first, addressing how the world sees refugees compared to immigrants. This is relatively straightforward, compared to the first question.

As you suggested, the refugee is seen with much more compassion given the fact that assumption is that their migration was no in any way planned or wished for. Migrants, however, are assumed to be doing something that they consciously plan for, and are “only” looking to better their economic lot in life. So, the general view is that with a refugee it is “life or death”, and with an immigrant it is “a better life”.

One of the problems, however, is that historically the labels of refugee and immigrant are determined by factors other than those impelling the migrants themselves. An example is the history of recent Cuban immigration. Because of the Federal Government's historic disapproval of the Cuban government, all Cubans coming to the U.S. were considered “refugees” in recognition that their freedom was being limited on the Island. However, since the Mariel Boat Lift of 1980, the primary motivation of the vast majority of Cuban immigrants has shifted from political to economic impulses, and yet they are still officially treated as “refugees” (but only if they are on land, if intercepted at sea they are returned). Likewise, many Central Americans who fled the civil wars in their homelands were not recognized by the U.S. government as refugees, because it was politically inexpedient to accept that they were fleeing a conflict that was underwritten by this country. So it is important to recognize that our views of who is an immigrant and who is a refugee can be determined by our political environment, rather than any sort of objective measure.

You ask whether or not we should welcome people from states or societies that are failing them more as “refugees” than as “immigrants”. The beauty of your vision is that in some ways it recognizes that economic need can be as urgent a matter as personal security or political freedom. In doing this you are implicitly taking much of the agency away from the immigrant herself, and providing a vision that recognizes the powerful forces beyond the immigrants' control. Nevertheless, I think that we need to keep a clear concept of what constitutes a refugee, and that there are times when not migrating can cost not only freedom, but life itself, even if we do include extreme economic factors into the equation.

Now to the more general question of asking what responsibilities are borne by a country from which the immigrant flees. I think many people would like to hold, for example, Mexico responsible, or at the very least force Mexico to keep its citizens at home. While this would recognize the responsibility, or historic lack of response, of that government to its people (and perhaps even force a change), there are some observations to be made.

The first is that it is difficult to determine how to hold a government responsible, and more important what can be done to force it to change. After all, some of the failures of states come about due to simple lack of resources, and not some nefarious plot to fail its citizens (although that does happen in places). So what can be done? Force countries to keep their citizens at home? Generally speaking the United States is on very unfriendly terms with countries that do not let their citizens to travel abroad. The government has had problems with Cuba, North Korea, the former East Germany and Soviet Union (remember Pres. Reagan's “Mr. Premier, tear down this wall!”?). It would be a supreme irony then for the U.S. to force a democracy to change its constitution to prohibit free exit of its citizens in order to satisfy a domestic political whim.

The second observation is that there is also a different optic in how immigration is seen in different countries. In general Mexico has consistently seen the immigration issue as a social problem requiring economic, cultural, and political solutions, and El Salvador and the Dominican Republic have seen it as an essential development strategy, while U.S. political rhetoric has favored a law enforcement point of view in which the overarching economic factors are not addressed. For this reason, the U.S. is seen to be sending mixed signals when it has asked Mexico and other countries to “take care of” the immigration problem, but when there has been a suggestion in response to attempt to address the problem bilaterally Congress has rejected the idea, claiming sovereignty.

The third is that the U.S. has often pursued policies that are contradictory. It generally acts in its best domestic economic interest, and not necessarily in the best interest of resolving the problem it insists it has. For example, the approach to the development of the economy taken under NAFTA was commendable in that it sought to integrate the economies of Mexico and Canada with the U.S. economy, but it fell short in that the U.S. has not acted in good faith to truly create a ”free market” by ending the use of farming subsidies. The vote to give President Bush fast-track authorization to implement CAFTA-DR, the free trade agreement with Central America and the Dominican Republic, passed in a Republican controlled Congress with a scant two votes, the result of heavy lobbying by sugar interests. The question at some point must be whether we want to keep farmers in countries such as Guatemala where they have a natural advantage in producing sugar, or whether we want to import them to this country to produce tax-payer subsidized sugar. That is the choice, because one sees precious few American workers in the cane fields of Louisiana, or the beet fields of Nebraska.

Undoubtedly Mexico and other sending countries have the responsibility to keep their house in order. They tend to suffer from weak institutions, antiquated political systems, outdated legal systems, and culturally embedded corruption, all of which contribute to making them “underdeveloped” countries. However, it is the policies of all the countries involved — including the U.S. — which will serve as the best possible way for them to address the responsibilities they have to their people.


What do Mexican immigrants, both legal and illegal, think of the United States political system? Do they tend to associate themselves with a particular party's belief system? I was wondering exactly how their opinions have have changed since the push for the immigration policy this past summer.

Jennifer Towey

Dear Ms. Towey:

Let me begin by saying that your question speaks directly to some of my personal interests, so thank you, this makes it much more fun.

In general, recent Mexican immigrants really don't think much about the subject of the US political system. They tend not to know much about the details, and gain that knowledge as time passes and as they incorporate themselves into U.S. society.

This is due to many reasons, but the three main ones seem to be the Maslovian situation in which immigrants find themselves (i.e. the need for food and shelter first, other refinements later); the particular history of politics and corruption of the country where they come from, which tends to limit “common folks'” participation — and therefore experience — in politics (very similar to the Italian immigrants at the beginning of the 20th Century); and the fact that on the face of it, the Mexican and American systems are organized in the same way (Presidential systems in a federative organization). Finally, effective participation is limited due to the very practical issue that voting is reserved for citizens, and, in the very best of cases, cannot therefore vote until they have been here at least five years. For the undocumented, of course, this means essentially never.

In terms of associating with a particular political party's belief system, neither party is really naturally aligned to the set of values and beliefs immigrants have. That is, the composition of the value clusters that define a conservative and a liberal are different in Mexico, and the center is to be found along different coordinates. Although many Latino immigrants tend to be socially conservative, their visions of solutions often involve collective responses in which government programs are not seen as something negative. So, while on the issue of abortion or divorce it would appear Latinos align with a conservative Republican point of view, their views on, say, welfare, and particularly the death penalty, would not track the same way. In essence this population, and more to the point their children, are really “in play” politically. Nationally, Latinos have been thus far much more likely than African Americans to be either Republicans or Independents.

In Texas and across the southwest the tendency for the “mature” (multiple US. generations) Mexican-American population was to vote Democratic, but that was simply a historical accident in that they sided with the party that maintained power in that region for so long. George Bush and Karl Rove recognized that this was a population that could be brought into the Republican fold, and that it need not be written off by the GOP. In fact, they managed to increase the share of Latino vote over two elections, to around 41 percent in 2004 — more than twice the rate in 1996.

This leads us to your third and last question. As you can imagine, the overheated rhetoric around the immigration issue was a cause for concern to many Latinos. The increase in the Latino share of the vote going to Republicans essentially collapsed between 2004 and 2006, pretty clearly as a result of the tone of the debate. The exit polls that year showed that in the mid-term elections for Congress the share of the vote fell to 30 percent for Republicans, a very substantial gain for the Democrats if the numbers are compared to the 2004 presidential race. Comparing exit polls suggests an 11 percent swing for Latinos in favor of the Democrats, while the swing among White voters was of some 6 percent (which due to the size of the population many more votes), and the change among African American voters (who consistently tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic) was much more modest. Thus, the movement away from the Republicans was greater among Latinos than Whites, suggesting that something distinctive occurred among Latino voters that rewarded the Democrats and punished the Republicans.

For the Republicans, a reliance on immigration as an issue to mobilize bases is a strategy of very dubious benefit, particularly in the long term. Anyone who doubts this need only look at California. More than a dozen years after Governor Pete Wilson's Proposition 187 anti-immigrant campaign, the California GOP has yet to recover any standing with the Latino community. There even non-immigrant Latinos felt as if they were used as the scapegoat for Gov. Wilson and his presidential ambitions, and they have yet to either forgive or forget. Since 1994, the only state-wide Republican to win office has been Arnold Schwartzenegger.

It is also dubious because it is coming at a time where the demographic shifts of this country will give increasing weight to the second generation Latino voter. Up until now, the “Latino vote” has remained more aspirational than effective because the adult population is highly immigrant, and even though most Latinos are born in the United States, the vast majority of them are under 18. According to estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center, Latinos made up 8.6 percent of the nation's eligible voters in 2006 — while they represented over 14 percent of the national population. Nevertheless some 400,000 to 500,000 Latinos are currently reaching the age of 18 every year and this trend will only accelerate. At the same time a population that has shown itself thus far to be rather politically inert, has been very much energized by the debate over immigration, and in particular by the strategy of demonization of immigrants, which is seen by many of these voters as a direct threat to their families.

In this sense, HB1457 — the “Sensenbrenner” bill which sought to criminalize immigrants and inspired the immigrant marches in the Spring of 2006, was a godsend to the Democrats. Immediately before this bill was introduced in December of 2005, young Latinos were considered the most politically disconnected group in society, and this changed dramatically in the subsequent months. Whether this process of engagement can be maintained is questionable, but past experience shows that once an individual has voted in three elections in a row for the same party, they are likely to lock in that preference, something that should be in the minds of GOP strategists if they hope to reverse their current slide.