Friday, February 1, 2008
In Los Angeles last night, Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had their last debate before Super Tuesday. With the last two Democratic candidates being an African American and a woman, it was historic debate, to say the least. In the end, the debate did not include much in the way of fireworks as both candidates behaved in a calm, diplomatic, leader-like fashion.
There was some discuission of immigration, which is an especially important issue to many in California. The responses were not too surprising but offer some food for thought.
The candidates were posed a question on immigration from a voter in Burnsville, Minnesota: "There's been no acknowledgement by any of the presidential candidates of the negative economic impact of immigration on the African-American community. How do you propose to address the high unemployment rates and the declining wages in the African-American community that are related to the flood of immigrant labor?"
Of course, this is a potentially explosive issue that could have led in many directions, especially by those who would want to sensationalize Black/brown tensions. Here is Senator Obama's response:
SEN. OBAMA: Well, let me first of all say that I have worked on the streets of Chicago as an organizer, with people who've been laid off from steel plants -- black, white, Hispanic, Asian -- and all of them are feeling economically insecure right now, and they have been for many years. Before the latest round of immigrants showed up, you had huge unemployment rates among African-American youth. And so I think to suggest somehow that the problem that we're seeing, in inner city unemployment for example, is attributable to immigrants, I think, is a case of scapegoating that I do not believe in, I do not subscribe to. (emphasis added).
This response generated applause from the audience.
When asked about driver's license eligibility for undocumented immigrants -- another issue ripe to cause conflict, Senator Obama, who has remained consistent in his position favoring licensing all drivers on our roads, responded:
"There are those who were opposed to this issue and there have been those who have flipped on the issue and have run away from the issue. This wasn't directed particularly at Senator Clinton, but the fact of the matter is, I have stood up consistently on this issue. On the driver's license issue, I don't actually want -- I don't believe that we're going to have to deal with this if we have comprehensive immigration reform because, as I said before, people don't come here to drive, they come here to work. (Applause.) And if we have signed them up -- if they have -- if we have registered them, if they have paid a fine, if they are learning English, if they are going to the back of the line, if we fix our legal immigration system, then I believe we will not have this problem of undocumented workers in this country because people will be able to actually go on pathway to citizenship. That, I think, is the right approach for African-Americans, I think it's the right approach for Latinos, I think it's the right approach for white workers here in the United States as well. (Applause.) (emphasis added).
To be fair, Senator Clinton sounded pretty even-handed in her call for comprehensive immigration reform and made an admission that none of the remaining Republican candidates would be willing to make:
SEN. CLINTON: If you want to round up and deport people, how many tens of thousands of federal law enforcement officials would that take? And how much authority would they have to be given to knock on every door of every business and every home? I don't think Americans would stand for that, so we have to get realistic and practical about this. (emphasis added).
This sounds much more generorous than Senator Clinton's reported comments earlier in the week about the deportation of "criminal aliens." It also stands in contrast to President Bill Clinton's very "tough on immigrant measures" in the 1990s.