Migrant Emancipation: December 2010 Archives
I'd like to join my co-blogger Kyle in wishing our readers a happy new year. It has been a roller coaster of a year, but we're not in the same place we were on January 1, 2010. While going forward we may not have the same unity of purpose that came at the end of the year from pushing for a discrete piece of legislation, the DREAM Act, there is new momentum and energy stemming from that push. And the new year will bring opportunity for new ideas and strategies. They will be necessary to counter new threats from increasingly anti-immigrant legislatures on the state and national level. But how many nativists went on hunger strike in 2010? How many marched over a thousand miles to raise awareness of their cause? How many were arrested in acts of civil disobedience which could lead to exile from their families and communities? I don't remember any. And that is why we will win.
So from Philadelphia on New Year's Eve, Happy New Year!
[Image: Rob Rudloff]
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled two unexpected developments out of his pocket this fall: he became a champion of the DREAM Act in Congress, and he secured victory over his opponent by a margin that no one had foreseen. I propose that these two events were related, but not in an obvious way.
Nativism Causes the Nevada Tea Party to Self-destruct
Politicians and pundits speculated that Harry Reid owed his victory over Tea Party candidate Sharon Angle in November because Latino voters were energized. Angle had run a series of anti-immigrant, anti-Latino ads which won her notoriety for running one of the most racist campaigns of the election season. One ad prompted the View's Joy Behar to taunt Angle to come to the Bronx in one of the election season's more memorable TV moments.
In the ads, Angle alleged that Harry Reid was "the best friend an illegal alien ever had." In one ad, she went after DREAMers directly, claiming that "Harry Reid is fighting for a program that would give preferred college tuition rates to none other than illegal aliens." This specific ad was almost certainly created in response to Reid's highly public effort to pass the DREAM Act shortly before the ad was run.
The narrative that emerged during the late stages of the campaign from both the left and the right was that Harry Reid had pandered to--or responded to--Latino voters in Nevada by announcing his intent to attach the DREAM Act to the defense authorization bill in September. Reid knew that by promoting a bill that would legalize hundreds of thousands of undocumented youth brought to the U.S. as children, he would mobilize Latino voters who could provide the margin of victory he needed against Angle. So he made a public statement of intent to bring the DREAM Act forward, knowing it would polarize the Senate and inject immigration politics into the Senate race in Nevada.
In retrospect, it was a brilliant plan. Staging a public push for the DREAM Act, which many voters had never heard of before September, was like waving a red flag in front of a bull for Angle and her Tea Party supporters, driving them to embarrassing outbursts of nativism. It seemed they couldn't help themselves. Rachel Maddow called the anti-DREAM Act spot the "most overtly racist ad of this campaign season."
These explicitly anti-Latino attacks in turn mobilized a previously disaffected Latino electorate in Nevada which had been upset with Democratic leadership for ignoring immigration reform. Latino voters came out in force and voted for Reid by a high margin--between 68% and 90% depending on the source. Reid won by 5.6%, mobilizing Latino voters to turnout in record numbers against all predictions.
Perhaps it was Reid's plan all along to pull out the DREAM Act late in the campaign to construct the "Latino firewall" that by some accounts saved his job. But maybe there is more to the story.