Immigration in Two Presidential Races

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on February 12, 2012

Every 12 years the presidential elections in the United States and Mexico coincide. This year it happens again, and illegal immigration will be an issue in both countries' campaigns.

In a column headlined "Obama's Mexicans" in today's El Universal, Susana Chacon, the editor of the Mexican edition of "Foreign Policy", wrote about the issue. She suggested that Mexico's presidential candidates take advantage of the growing importance of the Latino vote by pressuring President Obama for legislation to provide legal status to the "indocumentados".

Meanwhile, in today's New York Times, Ross Douthat took a different view. In a column headlined "Can the Working Class be saved?" Douthat endorses the policy of the Republican candidates who want to make it "as hard as possible for employers to hire low-skilled workers off the books."

Chacon asserted that President Obama's current advantage in the polls is "uncertain" and that "everything could change." Then she asked of the Mexican candidates, "Will they take advantage of the opportunity and protect their countrymen in the United States?"

Chacon's nationalistic defense of illegal immigrants is the dominant opinion across the Mexican political spectrum. Douthat's column, by contrast, embodies a form of American nationalism that is limited to social conservatives and a minority of liberals troubled by the effects of illegal immigration at the lower end of our job markets.

Douthat wrote that " if we expect less-educated Americans to compete with low-wage workers in Asia and Latin America, we shouldn't be welcoming millions of immigrants who compete with them domestically as well. Immigration benefits the economy over all, but it can lower wages and disrupt communities, and there's no reason to ask an already-burdened working class to bear these costs alone."

I would add another thought. It is a mistake to assume that Mexican Americans are going to line up with Mexican nationalists in support of illegal immigrants.

Many Mexican Americans have a more nuanced view. While they are angry at what they see as the habit of some on the right to demonize Latinos, there also disapprove of the left's position that we should offer a path to citizenship to anyone who makes it past the Border Patrol and finds a job in our increasingly tight and underpaying labor markets.