Paving the Path to Citizenship

October 17th, 2006

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Rachel Swarns has an interesting piece in today’s New York Times on a subject that is near and dear to Third Way – immigration. As she correctly points out, some Democrats are out-righting the right on enforcement of immigration laws. While Third Way is credited in the story with advising progressives to emphasize the Bush Administration’s failure to enforce immigration laws, we would like, to paraphrase NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, to clarify a “point of emphasis.”

It is true that our message memo and guidance tells candidates that anti-reform conservatives have “a fatal vulnerability on enforcement.” And they do – Bush’s enforcement record is abysmal, as we made clear in our report entitled A Heck of a Job on Immigration Enforcement.

But we also strongly advise these same progressives to land on the side of comprehensive immigration reform that includes an earned path to citizenship. In our briefings – with progressive leadership in both the House and Senate, governors at the National Governors Association annual conference in July, candidates, campaign consultants, media advisors, and campaign managers, as well as pro-reform immigration groups – we have counseled them on what our research shows is the most effective messaging and strategies to promote an earned path to citizenship. According to our own polling, by an overwhelming 83-15% margin, voters support the McCain-Kennedy compromise bill that offers illegal immigrants an earned path to citizenship. At the same time, 60% of voters believe it would be a good goal to deport al 12 million illegal immigrants back to their home countries (though most say this would not be practical). This is not a contradiction among voters, but a complexity within voters that we seek to speak to with the right messaging.

In Ms. Swarns piece she notes that “here in Tennessee, and in at least a dozen other fiercely contested Congressional races, Democratic candidates are publicly breaking with [citizenship legislation].” That is true. But there are dozens and dozens of other progressive candidates who heard our guidance and felt more comfortable choosing to support a path to citizenship. We are proud of that, and we remain committed to citizenship legislation that is tough at the border, fair to taxpayers, and practical in terms of dealing with the 12 million illegal immigrants already here.

To see our full immigration guidance, please see our Message Memo Winning the Immigration Debate.