Like many other areas and issues in Nevada’s U.S. Senate campaign, immigration is a subject where Reid and Republican challenger Sharron Angle stand in direct opposition. While a few of their words sound the same — both are for reform, you know — they couldn’t be more different in their approach to the complex subject of what to do with millions of America’s illegal immigrants.
Reid represents a Democratic Party that has gone to great lengths to court Latino voters and needed them to gain a majority in both houses and win the White House, but then put contentious immigration reform on the back burner behind health care and the economic crisis. By resurrecting it now, Reid could be viewed as a simple man who is just trying to fulfill a campaign promise.
But of course Reid’s not a simple man. He’s a political man. In addition to whatever good might come from the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, the fact Reid attached it to the defense spending bill tips his hand: He knows he lacks the necessary 60 votes to push through the legislation in a timely manner — that is, before the November election — so he’s playing the hand he’s been dealt.
In brief, the DREAM Act would give undocumented immigrant students who graduate from U.S. high schools and have “good moral character” the chance to win permanent residency status. They have to have arrived as minors and lived in the country for at least five straight years. The students can earn temporary residency, but must pursue higher education or enter the military.
It’s actually something immigration reform advocates on both sides of the political spectrum have embraced. But that was before the economy tanked and the conservative wing of the Republican Party became dominant.
Not to wear out the metaphor, but the latest statewide survey shows the chips are evenly stacked between Reid and Angle. Although Angle trails technically, she is well within the margin of error according to a Las Vegas Review-Journal-sponsored survey conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research.
Generally, Angle favors legal immigration but sides with Arizona’s hard-core approach. “Every state should have a sheriff like Joe Arpaio,” she told an interviewer. “Go, Arizona, go.”
Both candidates claim they want strong borders and tougher laws, and Angle says she believes current laws make it hard for legal immigrants to remain so. “Legal immigration, obviously, needs to have some tinkering done because it’s a long process,” she said in an interview.
But when it comes to Reid’s recent move to tie up partial immigration reform with defense spending, Angle’s campaign swung a ax in a recent television advertisement, declaring the Senate majority leader is, “the best friend an illegal alien ever had.”
In the ad, Reid is accused of supporting special tax breaks to immigrants and helping them receive Social Security benefits.
Trouble is, Reid’s team responds, none of that’s true.
Trouble for Reid’s team is, the senator’s decision to forward the DREAM Act gives his opponent more than ample fodder for attack.
Recent polls show more than half Nevadans believe undocumented workers are taking jobs from residents.
Why did Reid do it?
Surely to fulfill a campaign promise to work on immigration reform, and of course to energize Hispanic voters in the run up to Election Day.
Republicans won’t want to be seen as soft on defense, but they also are likely to pound away at the politics of connecting the DREAM legislation to military budget.
While Angle must take care not to lose the moment by airing inaccurate ads, Reid’s gamble could backfire and bust out his career, and he must know that. That tells me he also knows where he’s going.
John L. Smith writes a weekly column on rural Nevada. He also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at email@example.com or at 702 383-0295.