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What yesterday’s elections say about immigration reform

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Yesterday was a big day in the world of politics. With gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, empty seats house seats being vied for in CA and NY, two landmark votes on gay marriage in Maine and Washington and a smattering of local ballot initiatives and referendums, it was a day to measure the current political climate and reflect on where we’ve been since the election of Barack Obama one year ago.

While I’m still mourning the loss of gay marriage in Maine and wondering what Bob McDonnell’s election means for the erosion of women’s rights in Virginia, I’m also analyzing what the results say (if anything) about immigration reform in 2010.

New America Media  has a nice summary post about how the results could impact the likelihood of reform, calling yesterday a “mixed bag” but also stating that ‘Election results may boost immigration reform efforts in Congress‘.

Republican gubernatorial candidates who promised more hardline immigration stances won races in Virginia and New Jersey.

But two vacant seats in the U.S. House of Representatives (in New York’s 23rd district and California’s 10th district) were picked up by Democrats. As I explain below, these pick-ups should make it just a bit easier for House Democrats to marshal the votes needed to advance on comprehensive immigration reform, which they have promised to do before the end of this year.

The gains couldn’t come at a better time for Democrats eager to move on immigration. Earlier this autumn, 100 House Democrats sent a letter to President Obama reaffirming their commitment to push immigration reform legislation forward. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Ill.-D, has said he will introduce an immigration bill as early as this month.

What this means, in basic terms, is that supporters of immigration reform – primarily Dems – will have an easier time rounding up the necessary votes to move on legislation thanks to the addition of two more allies in the House.

On a local level, the election of Chris Christie in New Jersey and Bob McDonnell in Virginia could mean more hard-line and harmful local enforcement measures in both states.

Republican Chris Christie’s election as New Jersey governor over incumbent Jon Corzine may slow down or kill efforts underway to grant undocumented immigrant students the right to access in-state tuition at New Jersey colleges.

Christie’s election might also spur another 287(g) agreement, which gives local law enforcement the right to enforce Federal immigration lawl; a program that has been under much scrutiny and has been plagued with allegations of racial profiling and rights abuses.

In Virginia, newly elected governor Bob McDonnell is a strong proponent of 287(g) but also went out of his way to court the Latino vote in the state. While I highly doubt that he can take a hard-line anti-immigrant stance and simultaneously court the Latino vote successfully, I have been known to be wrong about this before (see: CNN and Lou Dobbs).

And finally, in Denver, Colorado, a local initiative was defeated that was described as a thinly veiled attack on undocumented immigrants. The initiative would have “significantly restricted police discretion on whether to impound cars driven by unlicensed drivers.” Basically the initiative would have made it almost mandatory to impound cars driven by unlicensed drivers (note: in Denver undocumented immigrants cannot be licensed to drive).

Again, a mixed bag on immigration reform and immigrant rights from the elections results yesterday. However, with the addition of two Dems in the house, its looking like there might be a bright spot in the mix.

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