Presidential candidates diverge on immigration reform

By: Roger Hoke – Staff Writer

As the presidential candidates from both major parties continue to seek support from voters in anticipation of the primaries in February, two of the hot button issues for voters across the U.S. are immigration reform and racial unrest.

“The first thing that all the candidates need to do, Republican or Democrat, is to clearly state that they see immigration and racial tension and unrest as problems,” said Daniel Birdsong, Ph.D. and political science professor. “Then they can start a debate on how they are going to go about addressing them, because certainly they are not going to be able to solve the problem of racial tension in the whole United States.”

The Democratic candidates believe there should be a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and many of the Republican candidates differ in their stances on the subject, according to Bloomberg.com.

There were 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center.

Republican candidate Jeb Bush believes there should be a pathway to citizenship, while Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee are all unclear on their stance. Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina have both stated they do not feel there should be a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants at this point in time, according to Bloomberg.com.

“The Republicans need to address immigration in a way that can help, from a party perspective, expand their base,” Birdsong said.

Birdsong believes the current disagreement among Republican candidates on the subject of immigration reform hurts their chances to win over voters from the Latino/a and Asian voter electorate. This is particularly important, as this demographic is growing among U.S. voters.

However, Birdsong noted that if Republican candidates try to create a plan with a pathway for citizenship for illegal immigrants, they are often labeled as being weak on immigration reform.

“For Republicans, at this point in the primary process, if you are looked at as weak on [immigration reform] it makes it harder for you to win primary voters,” Birdsong said.

Despite the fact that the Republican candidates have already started debating, the Sept. 16 debate did not help the GOP meet on a stance for immigration reform.

Although Fiorina and Donald Trump both agreed during the debate that the Democrats don’t truly want to fix the problem of illegal immigration in the U.S., Fiorina took issue with Trump’s proposal to disallow birthright citizenship in the United States, according to ABC News.

“You can’t just wave your hands and say the 14th Amendment is going to go away,” Fiorina said.

Top Democratic contenders Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Gov. Martin O’Malley agree on the development of legislation for citizenship for current illegal immigrants.

“The party of leaders like Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden has made it clear that they are committed to making the United States of America a warm and welcoming place for all people,” Zachary Zugelder, senior political science major and president of UD College Democrats, wrote in an email interview. “They realize that immigrants are an important part of our economy and that immigrants have many skills to bring to the table.”

“For the Democrats, they have a comprehensive plan on immigration, one that has a pathway to legalization and citizenship tied to it, so there is probably not a lot of differences between those candidates,” Birdsong said. “They seem to be more of a cohesive party on [that issue].”

Although the Republican candidates have not developed a cohesive stance on immigration reform, Birdsong explained the candidates’ views on the matter do not matter as much now as they will when the general election comes around.

“The difference between the two parties does not make as much of a difference now as it will in 10 months’ time,” Birdsong said.

In addition to immigration reform, Birdsong stated that if a Republican candidate wants the nomination, or to win the general election, they will need to talk about the topic of racial tension in a way that proves they want to help fix the problem.

Birdsong believes that Republican candidates will need strong support from the African-American demographic of voters, which has not occurred since the 1960s.

“The Republican candidates don’t seem to be sure on how to talk about this subject,” Birdsong said.