Friday, March 31, 2006

Immigration in California politics

Many of us who lean to the progressive side of things are enjoying the spectacle of national Republicans killing off their future prospects among Latino voters. They let their outright racists, like Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, set the party's legislative agenda. Tancredo and his buddy James Sensenbrunner of Wisconsin want to make our undocumented working class into felons. That's going to alienate even Latinos who think immigrants should play by the book.

What nobody seems to get is that most undocumented people are uncles or cousins or even wives of someone with legal status. Not to mention that their children are U.S. citizens. Where the exclusionists see Mexican invaders, Latinos see their families. Guess who wins that one -- and how they will vote when they are eligible?

So how does this play in California where we've been living inside these issues for years? In 1994, Pete Wilson played with this fire, won the re-election battle by pushing for the anti-immigrant Prop. 187, and the Republicans have been losing the war ever since as Latinos jumped firmly into the Democratic camp.

The frightening reality is that if Prop. 187 were offered to California voters today, it would probably pass again, though perhaps with less than 60 percent of the vote. Anti-immigrant measures reflect white fear that their country and culture is being engulfed by newcomers who speak foreign languages and have different lifestyles. But although California has passed the demographic tipping point at which white people ceased to be the majority (no ethnic groups has a majority these days), the electorate remains about 75 percent white. Most voters are older, better off, and more educated than non-voters; these are the characteristics of the white California population. Also many immigrants have not yet jumped the hurdles on the way to citizenship. So the Anglo vote remains dominant.

Anti-immigrant ballot measures remain a cheap way for Anglo California to say: "My state is changing and I'm scared." Fortunately we are not facing any current restrictionist ballot measures. But we probably will again, and for the time being, they may very well pass.

Meanwhile, this year, California politicians have simply tried to make immigration go away as a topic of political dialogue. Once singed, few want to go back to the racial animosity of the mid-1990s.

Gov. Arnold says "I'll let the geniuses in Washington figure all that out." His Republican base certainly wants more: in 2003 he let them know that he voted for Prop. 187; last year he flirted briefly with supporting the Minutemen vigilantes, then backed off. He has a quandary because anti-immigrant policies not only turn off Latinos, but also independent women of all races, another large electoral bloc with whom he has some problems.

Some California Republicans are less careful. State Sen. Tom McClintock, who is running for lieutenant governor, accused President George W. Bush of failing to protect U.S. borders and said illegal aliens should be deported. "There's nothing radical about that," said McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks."

And the Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist, running as a Conservative for congress in the San Diego suburbs, has been fanning the flames.

"I don't want to sound paranoid, but when you see hundreds of thousands of people rallying around a foreign flag ... it's the next thing to foreign insurrection," he said.

On the other hand, he says, Congress could spur an insurrection from the anti-illegal immigration side if it approves a plan that would legitimize those now in the country illegally. ..."I'm not going to promote insurrection, but if it happens, it will be on the conscience of the members of Congress who are doing this," he said. "I will not promote violence in resolving this, but I will not stop others who might pursue that."

Meanwhile, the Democrats dueling for the opportunity to take on Arnold have been ducking to the best of their ability. Phil Angelides points out that he opposed Prop. 187. As someone involved in that campaign, I can testify that Democratic politicians who showed any spine in that fight were few and far between. I don't remember his name, but that doesn't say anything -- he was not prominent in my circles. His website doesn't seem to mention the immigration at all, at least that I could find. No search function.

Aspiring Governor Steve Westly (website) has a section where visitors can give their opinions on immigration. His spokesman recently explained that Westly opposes HR 4437:

"It criminalizes undocumented workers in this country, which isn't good for public safety, the budget or the problem of illegal immigration at all."

Definitely advantage to Westly on immigration, simply by being prepared to address what folks are wondering about.

Oakland progressive policy advocate Frank Russo goes after Gov. Arnold about the many anti-immigrant measures introduced by Republican legislators -- and suggests some measures he should support: drivers licenses for the undocumented so we can be sure they have insurance; in-state tuition in community colleges for undocumented young people who have graduated from California high schools; and development of a California Office of Immigrant Affairs. Democrats would be smart to come clean on these issues as well.

In 1994, older relatives of the current crop of Latino high school students took to the streets, much as we have been seeing over the last few days. California has begun to calm down over immigration -- anyone who thinks the state is upset by recent walkouts and marches never knew or has forgotten how heated the atmosphere was 12 years ago. California is working out how to be one of the most diverse societies the world has ever seen. Eventually the pols will catch up with the people.


Anonymous said...

I'm an older liberal woman, a native Californian, and I have some questions I'm not getting any answers to. (Truth in advertising: over at dKos, on a related subject, I was told to "shut the fuck up" and accused of channelling Michelle Malkin. Not helpful, and not true.) Perhaps you can help me, if you will. You certainly seem to be qualified to do so.

When I look at hispanic immigrants, I see a possible flood of social conservatives. I'm inclined to fear that their current alliance with social progressives is a "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" kind of thing, from their point of view. Not cynical, simply expedient. To look at the worst possible outcome, I'm concerned that we'll end up with a Catholic/fundamentalist/anti-feminist dominated California. And as a not-Catholic, not-fundamentalist feminist, I can't help worrying, especially for my aggressively feminist daughter.

I genuinely want to know: why aren't you worried?

janinsanfran said...

Anonymous above: thanks for asking. I'll try to answer a little.

I do believe that the growth of the Latino population will change our society and that some of the values that some Latinos hold are in conflict with mine. I am after all a lesbian, so I worry about Catholic bigotry. But mostly I see that from the existing white hierarchy, so I blame those old guys, not my low wage worker neighbors.

Remember, becoming Californians changes people too, just as new Californians change the state. My partner teaches ethics to college freshmen. Most of her students are immigrants of one sort or another. Most are far more liberal than the average white California voter, combining a live and let live attitude toward "lifestyle choices" with strong impulse toward justice for low wage workers and families. She has a lot of hope for them.

And, when it comes down to it, it is not for us to approve of our immigrant neighbors. People are here--we need to get used to it and work together to make the state work. "Aqui estamos; no los vamos" is simply true.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your time and insights. They are helpful.

Mark H. Foxwell said...

I commented on a similar comment on a Pandagon thread and the answers I got were kind of non-sequiturs, but that thread is dead so...

I am not so sure Latinos are such reactionaries. In fact, I've seen a fair amount of evidence that Marxist leftist ideas have way more currency in Mexico than here. Makes sense; until the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, the Mexican Revolution was the hot item for world leftists, especially American ones, and Woodrow Wilson responded with "appropriate" panic.

Mind, I suppose there need not be a conflict between patriarchy and Marxism. It may be that many of these Mexican Marxists fail to reflect that leftist revolution might revolutionize the relations between men and women, and homophobia may also prevail among some leftist movements too. Then when these people come to El Norte and realize that on what we have of a left, we perceive progress as a package, they just might retreat into reactionary patriarchy.

Nevertheless, I think a major reason US culture has promoted bigotry against Latino immigrants in general has been a real fear that their culture contains revolutionary thought that might cross-fertilize with our own slumbering revolutionary tradition to bring the poor working people right back into the political arena.

And I believe that insofar as this happens in California, the outcome is to fully radicalize all parties, and feminism and acceptance of gayness becomes normal even among people with a different tradition.

I for one see the rising Latino tide as a bastion against reaction, and insofar as I trust the democratic process at all I feel confident California is that much safer. And by and large, our legislative process has borne that out. I am frustrated to contemplate the wonky impotence of Sacramento, but it is not nearly as scary as it was a decade ago, and for this I thank Latino voters. The iconic moment for me was when Loretta Sanchez defeated "B-1 Bob" Dornan for Congress in Orange County, not once but twice--because the Republican Congress listened to his absurd racist charges of illegal Latino voting and refused to seat her. It used to be that I regarded Orange County as a lost cause, and it is only Latinos who changed that.

Of course we are in some danger, but it is mainly from a fascist takeover from above in the form of manipulating election results. I am very worried about Schwarzenegger's appointee Secretary of State ramming Diebold machines down on California counties that have hitherto been sensible enough to avoid them, and fear a "surprise upset" in the fall elections that will blatently contradict both sentiment on the street and every objective poll predicting the otherwise obvious Democratic victories.

No doubt if this happens, the press will be full of nonsense about California's "sensibly conservative" Latinos having "gotten over" their "tantrums" against Wilson. We've seen it happen on a national scale, with fairy tales about the fundamentalist vote securing a "mandate" for Bush in 2004.

janinsanfran said...

Mark -- interesting. I completely agree with you that many immigrants bring with them some quite leftist traditions. In my neighborhood, many of the newcomers are from Central America and are very sophisticated critics of unbridled capitalism, much more critical than most North Americans.

As for McPherson and the Diebold machines -- could be. We have to win by a lot -- work to do.

Mark H. Foxwell said...

Well, if we can win at all that means my worst fears are not justified. If they are--it won't matter what margins we actually secure among people going in and pushing buttons, we'll still be told we didn't.

Since 1998, the only manner in which Californians have fallen for the Right's ploys has been the recall election. Otherwise this state is solid. At least in terms of Democrat vs Republican.

We know that isn't enough. But some of the best progressive leadership this country has in office is from here. I live in Sonoma County, in Lynn Woolsey's congressional district and Wes Chesbro's state senate district and Patty Berg's assembly district, so when I feel a need to make a special effort, I have to go out of town.

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