McCain Could Take Immigration Off the Table

Washington Matters

McCain Could Take Immigration Off the Table

Remember when it looked like the the 2008 presidential campaign would be a great debate over illegal immigration?


 Never mind.


McCain's strong showing Tuesday night and his likely capture of the GOP nomination means immigration won't be the big wedge issue it might have been -- at least not on a national level. Though McCain has backed off the comprehensive immigration bill he cosponsored last year and says he now understands that Americans want better border control first, there's little daylight between his position and that of either of the two Democratic contenders. They all favor a comprehensive approach, including a big guest worker program and some system that allows illegal immigrants already in the U.S. to pay fines and penalties and eventually earn citizenship. 


What happened? The moderate middle won out, as it seems to be doing on a host of issues this year. While there's a very vocal minority of Americans who want, in essence, to deport all illegal aliens, poll after poll shows that a big majority of voters prefer a more lenient approach. And that majority paid no attention to the right's railing against McCain on immigration when they voted in the primaries. Immigration still resonates in some border areas, and it'll influence some congressional contests, but it's hardly a surefire winner for anti-immigrant candidates.


All this is good news for Democrats. For one, they'll be under less pressure to walk a tightrope on immigration issues in the general campaign. And second, the Hispanic vote, which showed signs of moving to the GOP in 2004, is back in the Democratic camp. McCain has support among Hispanics, and he may win the votes of some  if Obama is the nominee, but most will stick with the Democrats in November.


Putting immigration on the back burner for the campaign is also good news for employers who feel a strong need for a comprehensive bill. It means there's a better chance that Congress will be able to pass a compromise bill in 2009 or 2010. It still won't be easy, but it's possible.