Immigration no longer front and center

May 1, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
In the race for the White House, the issue of immigration reform has been pushed to the back seat. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain are talking instead about the economy, high gas prices and the war.

Immigration was a big issue early on in the debates, both on the Republican and Democratic side, but it isn't big on the agenda now for the three remaining contenders. With the economy in a slide, it's an issue that we could see again before the November election.

When jobs are hard to find and the economy is slumping, that's when immigration issues often return to the political landscape says labor economist and UC professor, Harley Shaken.

"Fewer jobs means more competition for those jobs that are left. That can often be incendiary," says Professor Shaken.

The issue clearly got too hot for Senator John McCain. The man who once argued for comprehensive immigration reform got into trouble with his conservative base over the issue of giving undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.

"If someone commits a crime and has to pay a penalty, you don't call it amnesty," says McCain.

These days, McCain doesn't even list immigration on the issues tab of his Web site. Instead, there's a page called "border security."

"What he's saying is, 'Okay, I'm going to secure the borders first,' but he's not promising that he will abandon comprehensive immigration reform which some people in his party, particularly on the hard right, are opposed to," says ABC7 political analyst Professor Bruce Cain.

Professor Cain says that John McCain has much more to lose from a resurgence of the immigration issue, while Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are much more in line with their party's base and each other. Both favor securing the borders, improving the immigration system, providing a path to earn citizenship and greater cooperation with Mexico.

The only disagreement between them appears to be over drivers' licenses for undocumented immigrants which came up during a Democratic debate.

"I do not think that it is either appropriate to give a driver's license to someone who is here undocumented," says Clinton.

"I don't want a bunch of hit and run drivers because they're worried about being deported, so they don't report an accident. That is a judgment call," says Obama.

It's the judgment of our political experts that whoever wins the White House will be dealing with the economy and the war.

"Will that president have the political capital to address those two issues and something like healthcare and at the same time try to do something in immigration? Possible... not likely," says Professor Shaken.

Immigration is a hot button issue and it could return to the political foreground in the general election, but if it does, it's likely to be more trouble for John McCain. However, don't expect immigration reform to move in front of the war, the economy or healthcare.


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