Time will tell what the impact of the Nov. 7 election on the immigration question will be. For the short term, it is worth noting that the Republicans lost at least 9 House seats held by members of Tom Tancredo’s hateful 104-member “House Immigration Reform Caucus” — the witches’ cauldron in which a lot of anti-immigrant stuff has been cooked up. The incumbent caucus members whose seats were lost to the GOP are Charlie Bass (N.H.), Bob Beauprez (Colo.), Jeb Bradley (N.H.), Gil Gutknecht (Minn.), J.D. Hayworth (Ariz.), Joel Hefley (Colo.), Jim Ryun (Kan.), John Sweeney (N.Y.) and Charles Taylor (N.C.).
Hayworth’s loss is a big victory for immigrants — he is a Pat Buchanan look-alike who has slandered immigrants and believes in the “Reconquista,” the far-fetched notion that Mexico is scheming to re-annex California and the U.S. Southwest.
In addition, Minuteman member Randy Graf was trounced in Arizona’s 8th CD. The seat had formerly belonged to retiring moderate (on immigration) Republican Jim Kolbe.
So we might cautiously conclude that the House Republican tactic of blocking all forward motion on immigration and using fake “field hearings” in an effort to whip up fear and hatred of immigrants may have failed as an electoral tactic. Whether it actually lost them votes requires more analysis; more than any other issue, these election results were a protest against the Iraq war.
Unfortunately, Democrat Tammy Duckworth could not defeat Pete Roskam, successor to Henry Hyde, in Illinois’ 6th CD. Roskam is a horror, but so was Hyde; it is not a step backward, just not a step forward. We need to analyze what went wrong there.
On the one hand, the maneuverings of Rahm Emanuel in blocking the candidacy of Democrat Christine Cegelis, who did well against Hyde in 2004, are partly to blame. But a lack of maturity must also be sharply criticized among liberals and leftists who were so angry at Emanuel’s power play that they let an extremist like Roskam be elected by default. Whether that actually made the difference is not clear.
A few caucus member seats were still to close to call as of Nov. 8, including that of Jean Schmidt, the star-spangled jingoist of Ohio (who was forced to apologize for calling a colleague a coward or traitor or something on the floor of the House earlier this year), and Barbara Cubin in Wyoming.
Most of the new Democratic senators will be better on immigration than their Republican predecessors. Sen. Rick Santorum, who was closely identified with the persecution of immigrants in Hazleton, Pa., is out of there, and good riddance. It appears that Jim Webb has defeated George Allen in Virginia, and, once again, good riddance. Allen is a race-baiting proto-fascist who supports extreme repressive measures against immigrants.
How do we take advantage of these results? First, remember that the Republican right might try to pull some sort of stunt during a special post-election lame-duck session. So we must be wary of that. Although in the House, the Democrats almost exactly reversed the former Republican majority, not all Democrats are equally good on immigration issues. So there will still be a need to mobilize, march and lobby.
Perhaps the best thing that will happen, as far as immigrant rights are concerned, is that Nancy Pelosi will now become speaker of the House and John Conyers will replace James Sensenbrenner as chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Real work on the immigration issue will be possible at that level. If Webb has beaten Allen in Virginia, the Senate, too, will have a more favorable climate for discussing the rights of immigrants. Stay tuned.