January 2009


A few critical comments on the recent CIS Backgrounder, “Latino Voting in the 2008 Election: Part of a Broader Electoral Movement,” (see here, for instance) have surfaced on various blogs in the last few days. This is a good thing, as it draws attention to the fact that the stories that are being told about the GOP losses in the 2006 and 2008 elections need to be challenged. Elections are complicated, and always subject to multiple interpretations as to why the results came down the way they did. The best way to gauge which interpretation is correct is to examine evidence for alternative explanations, not shout louder than the other person.

As an important sidebar to this discussion, I don’t think anyone is arguing against the importance of the Republicans continuing to broaden their base. No one that I know of believes that one party should be all-European American (since many Latinos consider themselves white, it doesn’t make sense to say “all-white” since that would not exclude Latinos). There are a few on the fringe who may believe in an all-European American party, but they have neither a following nor an audience.

That makes the real argument about the means for broadening the GOP’s base. I don’t believe that survey or other data have made a very convincing case that this should be accomplished by adopting libertarian positions on immigration policy, lenient views of border enforcement, or by adopting an amnesty for illegal immigrants. The data simply do not show what many observers want them to show.

Critical to the accumulation of knowledge on any subject is the importance of comparison. What we often lack in news and interest group use of survey data are the comparisons of other groups that would help adjudicate claims such as: Latinos voted Democratic because of Republican position-taking on immigration. How can we possibly know this is true if we do not look at other electoral groups to see how they voted?

A group might look unique in its response to a particular campaign when there are no comparisons. When the relevant comparisons are considered, this uniqueness fades. This is what the CIS Backgrounder tried to provide; a comparison of Latinos with other groups in the electorate. These comparisons show that Latinos were not at all alone in moving to the Democratic side in 2008 relative to 2004. Every group considered in the paper moved in that very direction. This makes it much less likely that the election was about immigration, since we know that many of these groups don’t care much about immigration policy. Considered not just in isolation, but alongside the movement of so many other demographic groups, it appears that the election was about the economy and fears of joblessness and foreclosure, not about immigration.

The other comparisons we need are comparisons across issue salience. Certainly a survey tabulation may indicate that immigration is “an important” issue for Latinos, but there are probably many issues that are ranked as “important”: education, health care, jobs, crime, perhaps even gun rights, national security, and gay marriage. But that doesn’t mean that any of these issues influenced the voting decision or steered a voter toward one party or the other. Voters will regularly express a strong preference for Coke over Pepsi, or strawberry over vanilla. But that does not mean that these entrenched views have direct relevance for the vote decision.

Comparisons across elections, such as the House and Senate elections of 2008, are important too. One might carelessly to point to some Republican candidates who lost running on reform platforms as a repudiation of a particular policy view. But this ignores not only the Republican candidates who won with the same record, but the large number of Republicans who lost adhering to more liberal views on the subject, or whose views were unarticulated. Considered selectively and in isolation, observers will make a false inference from incomplete data. All of the contested outcomes need to be considered, those races where immigration was mentioned and those where it was ignored.

We do know from decades of research that party identification is relevant for vote choice. It is the dominant consideration by virtually every account of political behavior. At the very least, then, when considering the impact of an issue position on the vote, pundits and commentators should control for the influence of party identification as a significant rival explanation. Most of the Latinos who consider immigration a highly salient issue are committed Democrats, plain and simple. They would not have voted for the McCain/Palin ticket under any circumstances. There are always a few exceptions, but the data suggest that they are a small number. Other control variables should include socioeconomic status, and possibly religion. Concerns about the economy should be included as a rival explanation for the vote.

Voting decisions are often overly intellectualized by pundits, interest groups, and yes, even academics like myself. We probably want to believe that voters are more attentive to what’s happening here in Washington than they really are. But the evidence for an elaborate issue-oriented worldview among anyone but the most elite voters is quite weak. Numerous investigators have found that respondents provide “off-the-top-of-the-head” answers to survey questions that do not have a deep anchorage in a lucid framework, but reflect temporary impressions, usually structured by a pollster’s multiple-choice response options, that may change with the next survey. The resulting response instability doesn’t mean we should abandon survey research, but we should be well aware of what simple survey tabulations can tell us.

Does this understanding of the survey response mean that voters, Latino or otherwise, are stupid or politically illiterate? Not at all, but they do live busy lives, concerned primarily about family, work, and school. The amount of attention that they devote to political affairs is finite. They frequently use information shortcuts, called heuristics, to make judgments, and party identification is one of the most convenient of those. Voters also consult others in their environment, which is the reason I have highlighted the role of location of residence as an important influence on political learning (see here, for instance). They have a sense of whether the economy is doing poorly or doing well. We may all wish that voters had the time to pay attention to politics as closely as an interest group advocate in Washington does, but if they did, we wouldn’t need these interest group advocates trying to tell them what they should think.

In conclusion, we have every reason to doubt that immigration policy influenced the 2008 general election outcome. More generally, alternative explanations for election results go untested by the Washington advocacy and punditry corps. Comparisons with other groups, and comparisons with other issues are essential for evaluating specific claims. People express strong opinions about many issues, but this does not mean that their opinion is a determinant of their vote choice. Finally, interpretations of survey results should reckon with the knowledge we have accumulated about survey responses. Voters in open-ended discussion and deliberation on an issue will often shade and nuance responses that look clear-cut in a typical survey. This does not prove that voters are ignorant, but quite the opposite: they are preoccupied with more pressing things, and are often thoughtful.

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Tens of thousands of immigrants have been allowed to register the same January 1 birthday on official Government records, it emerged last night. They include at least 3,250 asylum seekers who told officials they did not know when they were born. Some asylum seekers destroy their papers and claim to be younger than they actually are, in order to increase their chances of remaining in the UK. Even failed claimants are not normally deported until they reach 18, if they arrived here alone. Also, judges do not recommend foreign criminals for deportation if they were still minors when their offences were committed.

Opposition MPs said the farce was proof the system remained in ‘complete chaos’ – almost three years after it was declared ‘not fit for purpose’ by then Home Secretary John Reid. Officials are supposed to record an accurate date of birth for every migrant arriving. But, if migrants insist their home country does not record their date of birth, officials are allowing them to register January 1.

In 2007, 21,652 people were logged as having this date of birth, including 3,000 asylum seekers. They represent one in every 25 entries on the immigration system, which records the details of asylum seekers, foreigners arriving on a visa and British nationals acting as their sponsor. Home Office officials said some countries recorded only a year of birth, and not the exact date. Others, such as China, do not recognise the British calendar year.

But police say that having so many migrants with the same date of birth is leading to problems of identification. One said: ‘The amount of asylum seekers we pick up with the same birthday is ridiculous. It makes a complete mockery of the system.’

A case which highlights the problem is the 2005 killing of Zainab Kalokoh, who was shot through the head while cradling her six-month-old niece at a christening. Timy Babamuboni was jailed for 16 years for his part in the killing but will not be deported because of his age. He was officially 14 when he and fellow gang members carried out the killing in Peckham, South London. His brother Diamond, who claimed to be 18, was also jailed for 16 years.

But police believe both men were far older than their Nigerian birth certificates suggest. Officers think the original reason for the fraud was to enable the Babamuboni family to claim more state benefits in Britain and have a better chance of receiving housing.

Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘If ever you wanted proof this Government has created a system in complete chaos, it is this.’ A UK Border Agency spokesman said: ‘Less than 1 per cent of the people entered onto our systems in 2007 were asylum seekers with the date of birth of January 1. ‘The vast majority come here to work, study or visit with passports which confirm their date of birth. ‘One thing is clear – people cannot hide their identity by giving their date of birth as January 1.’

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The heroic Gurkhas are much loved in Britain so this will be greeted with widespread jubilation as being justice done

Thousands more Gurkha soldiers and their families will be given the right to settle in Britain under a new policy to be announced by the Home Office. New settlement rights due to be announced could open the door to 36,000 Gurkhas who served in the British Army before 1997. Nepal is understood to be concerned that the loss of so many citizens and their army pensions could leave a huge hole in its economy.

The Home Office was forced to take action after a ruling from High Court judges in October that the Government needed to review its policy on whether Gurkhas who had served before 1997 could live in Britain.

Officials say that the forthcoming decision has such far-reaching consequences that concerns have been raised about the continuing recruitment of Gurkhas from Nepal. Defence officials have warned the Home Office that if the right to live in Britain were extended to every Gurkha who has served in the British Army Nepal might scrap the 1947 agreement under which its young men have been recruited each year. Since the tripartite agreement was signed with Nepal and India, the Nepalese economy has relied on income coming into the country from Gurkhas serving with the British Army.

The Home Office has come up with certain criteria for settlement that will keep the numbers down without flouting the judgment of the High Court. One Whitehall source said: “We can still meet what the judges want while keeping the criteria as tight as possible. We have no idea at this stage how many will want to come to live in the UK and how many members of their family they will bring with them.”

The MoD denied a report last week that it wanted to scrap the Brigade of Gurkhas because of the potential multimillion-pound cost of paying out bigger pensions to the Nepalese veterans if granted settlement rights. “We don’t want to scrap the brigade. Five hundred Gurkhas are serving in Afghanistan at the moment,” a defence source said. Gurkhas are needed, not just for their professionalism, but to boost numbers in an Army that is nearly 4,000 soldiers short. The Gurkha veterans who will be covered by the new policy are those who served in Hong Kong before the handover to the Chinese in 1997. After that date new Gurkha recruits from Nepal were based in Britain.

The MoD’s argument in the High Court case was that Gurkhas serving in the former British colony up to 1997 had no expectation of living in Britain and returned home to Nepal after completing their term of service. Only Gurkhas with strong links to Britain could be considered for residency. The judges accepted that 1997 was a reasonable cut-off date but insisted that the decision to deny Gurkhas who had served before 1997 the automatic right to live in Britain was discriminatory and illegal. They said that the Nepalese soldiers had displayed the same courage and commitment to Britain as those who had served after 1997.

Gurkhas have fought alongside British soldiers for nearly 200 years — 200,000 fought in the world wars and 45,000 have died in action.

The judges ordered a review of policy that was due to have been completed and announced two days ago, but the Home Office won a brief extension to the three-month deadline set by the judges. The MoD’s greatest concern with the decision is the impact that it will have on the Nepalese Government and the future of the Gurkha-recruitment programme. About 30,000 Nepalese families depend on the salaries and pensions of the British Gurkhas.

The average annual wage in Nepal is 235 pounds, and the 230 Nepalese recruited into the 3,500-strong Brigade of Gurkhas each year (28,000 applied last year) transform what would otherwise be an impoverished existence. After an increase, announced last year, a Gurkha rifleman with 15 years’ service receives a pension in Nepal of about 131 pounds a month. If they came to live in Britain, they would expect to receive the same pension awarded to other members of the Armed Forces — and to the post-1997 Gurkhas already living here. An official said: “They wouldn’t get a higher pension as of right. There will have to be further court cases to resolve this issue but if their pensions are increased, the money will have to be found out of the MoD budget.”

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There are now ten schools in England without a single pupil who speaks English as his or her first language. Research reveals that there are almost 600 primary schools where 70 per cent or more of youngsters normally speak a foreign language. Across the country, one in seven pupils aged 4-11 does not have English as the first language, which is the equivalent of 466,620 children. But, following years of unprecedented levels of migration, ten schools have now reached a point where every youngster falls into this category.

Their locations range from London to Lancashire. One, St Hilda’s in Oldham, is a Church of England school. Some schools are in areas with long-established Muslim populations. In others, the high number of non-English speakers is the consequence of large-scale immigration from Eastern Europe.

Labour MP Frank Field and Tory MP Nicholas Soames, co-chairmen of the Cross Party Group on Balanced Migration, said: ‘These figures make a nonsense of the Government’s aim of integration and show the very real strain that uncontrolled large scale immigration is already placing upon our society. ‘In hundreds of primary schools, English is the second language for over 70 per cent or more of the pupils. ‘How can these children be expected to integrate into our society if they are being taught in schools where is English is the mother tongue of no pupils or a minority of pupils?’ Mr Field asked the Children’s Department to produce a list of all those schools where seven in ten or more pupils did not have English as their first language.

The 591 primary schools out of 17,205 which fall into this category represent around three per cent, or around one in 30. There are a number of local authorities where 20 per cent or more of their schools have at least 70 per cent of youngsters who do not have English as their first language. These include the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets (62 per cent), Newham (46.9), Brent (28.8) and Ealing (28), plus Blackburn (26.7), Leicester (25.9), Bradford (25), Luton (20.3) and Birmingham (20).

Shadow immigration minister Damian Green said: ‘Two successful elements of any immigration policy should be to limit the numbers coming in so that the pressure on all public services is reduced, and to insist on English being spoken to a competent level by people coming here to get married. ‘It is relatively easy to cope with a small number of non-English speakers, but incredibly difficult if there are large numbers. Scale matters.’

David Green, director of the Civitas think-tank, has warned that when a large number of immigrant children go into schools, it is very hard for the staff to accommodate them and specialist teachers have to be brought in. Last night, Dr Green said that when the Government was advocating the economic benefits of mass migration, it failed to take into account the impact on schools and other public services. He warned that one of the consequences of having schools where no pupils had English as a first language was that they and their families might lead a sectarian lifestyle.

A spokesman for the Children’s Department said: ‘It is important to remember that some of the schools with 100 per cent of their pupils with English as an additional language are actually doing very well, especially considering the extra challenges they face. ‘Even if a pupil speaks another language they may still be highly competent in English, and many are. In cases recent arrivals from countries such as Poland have helped keep small rural schools open that may have otherwise closed because of falling pupil numbers. ‘The language of instruction in English schools is English and this is vital in boosting community cohesion. ‘The task is to get every child up to speed in English so that they can access the whole curriculum. ‘We have listened to the concerns of head teachers and are increasing funding in the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant to 206million pounds by 2010, to bring students weak in English up to speed.’

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SB81: 78 percent of voters polled want the restrictions implemented

After hearing impassioned testimony from dozens of advocates on both sides of the immigration reform debate, one House member thinks more objective, factual information is needed before Utah allows a comprehensive immigration reform bill to become law this July. Rep. Stephen Clark, R-Provo, has proposed a bill that will fund a $150,000 study assessing the fiscal impacts of undocumented workers on the state in five, 10 and 25 years. The bill also would delay the implementation of immigration bill SB81. “We’re putting a big burden on the state in implementing this, and on employers,” Clark said. “We should know every piece of data that is out there. There is no appetite to rush this.”

But 78 percent of registered Utah voters want to see SB81 implemented, according to a poll by The Salt Lake Tribune . The bill would, among other provisions, require all companies that contract with the state to check the immigration status of their employees and allow local police to enforce immigration law.

Just 12 percent of poll respondents said they oppose SB81, which was passed last year but doesn’t take effect until this summer. Ten percent were undecided. “Most people have been supportive of SB81, and there was some opposition, but a lot of groups have asked for a stronger law,” said Rep. Brad Dee, R-Ogden. “But SB81 is a reasonable compromise.”

Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, though, hopes the implementation date is pushed back. “It’s a matter of practicality, budget and constitutionality,” she said. Robles points to the bill’s $1.8 million price tag in a tight budget year and a current court case over Oklahoma’s law, which served as a model for several of the Utah provisions.

Other groups are taking a different approach. During testimony heard late this fall, the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce proposed a statewide guest worker program, which would allow companies to hire workers from other countries if no American wanted the job and the workers passed background checks. A special tax on the workers would fund their health care. The idea resonated with Utah’s registered voters, with 51 percent supporting such a program while 38 percent opposed it and 11 percent were undecided. “This is something that we can do now that will address solutions and address fundamental problems in our immigration system,” Wesley Smith, policy director for the chamber, told lawmakers in December. “There are folks here that want to work and contribute. If that’s the case, we can resolve a lot of issues by allowing that to take place.”

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France yesterday called on Britain to toughen up its act against the tide of illegal migrants crossing the Channel. During a crisis visit to Calais, France’s hardline new immigration minister Eric Besson criticised his London counterparts. He claimed that lax security in the Channel Tunnel and at ferry ports was encouraging thousands to try to enter Britain illegally, causing huge problems for the French.

In an upcoming meeting with British immigration minister Phil Woolas, Mr Besson will make it clear that there will be no new version of the Red Cross refugee centre at Sangatte, near Calais. He said a permanent hostel would only serve as a springboard for the migrants already in the northern French port – and as a magnet for thousands more to arrive. He hoped to silence repeated calls by aid agencies for a new shelter for migrants to be set up in Calais.

The original Sangatte hostel was blamed for becoming a stepping stone to Britain for more than 50,000 refugees over five years. It was finally bulldozed in 2002 in a joint agreement between Britain and France. Since then, refugee charities have provided food and clothing to bedraggled immigrants in Calais, but not given them overnight shelter.

Hundreds now live in filthy conditions in a woodland shanty town near the ferry port called the ‘jungle’. The appalling conditions and fighting over food have triggered frequent clashes between rival immigrant gangs and police. A London journalist was raped by an Afghan refugee last year after visiting the camp to write a news article.

Mr Besson was in Calais today to explore ways to help solve the immigration crisis which has plagued the northern French coast for a decade. He said: “I don’t pretend to have all the answer today but I am visiting Calais in the hope of finding them. “I hope to have made final decisions on what to do about Calais by May 1.” He added: “But I will say now that it is out of the question to reopen a new hostel for immigrants in Calais. “This would only help the immigrants that are there already to remain there or cross illegally to Britain. “And it would become a powerful incentive for more immigrants to come there. “It would also not be a solution to the humanitarian problem. It would be an extra humanitarian problem. “I will meet with British officials in the coming days and I intend to make the ferries and channel tunnel watertight to illegal immigrants. “Our British partners must commit themselves more actively in the reinforcement of checks and security at Calais, in their own interests and ours.”

Mr Besson also said earlier this week that he is set to bring in legislation that would allow DNA testing of new immigrants arriving in France. The tests would establish which foreigners were genuine refugees and which were claiming visas by making up fictious family ties with those already in France. The DNA scans will be for applications for visas of more than three months when there are doubts about an immigrant’s birth or marriage certificates.

Civil liberties groups reacted furiously to the scheme, which was approved by the French parliament 15 months ago but does not come into effect until Mr Besson has signed the legislation – a move which until now has been delayed by protests. But Mr Besson has now said he wanted to enact the proposals, adding: “If the decree is accepted, I will scrupulously respect all individual liberties. It’s not my obsession.”

But immigrant welfare activist Daniele Lochak, former president of GISTI immigrants support group, said: “It’s obvious that applicants who refuse DNA tests will have every chance of having their visas refused.” The cost of up to 350 pounds per test would also to be beyond the reach of many immigrant families, he said.

France civil law also says that taking and examining a person’s DNA can only be for medical or scientific research, meaning magistrates will have to authorise the new immigrant tests. Outgoing immigration minister Brice Hortefeux recently announced that France deported 30,000 illegal migrants in 2008 – a record number. It was a rise of more than 25 per cent on the number expelled the previous year.

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Mass. factory owner sentenced in immigration case

The president of a New Bedford leather-goods factory that was raided in 2007 by immigration agents was sentenced Tuesday to 12 months in federal prison for harboring and concealing illegal immigrants. Francesco Insolia, the owner of Michael Bianco Inc., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock after Insolia agreed in November to plead guilty. Michael Bianco Inc. was also ordered to pay $1 million for 18 specific counts of knowingly hiring illegal immigrants between 2004 and late 2006.

Insolia told Woodlock he took full responsibility for not taking any action after being informed he had illegal immigrants working in his factory. “I’m responsible for the conduct,” Insolia said, while more than 30 emotional supporters listened. “Never in my worst nightmare would I think I’d find myself in the position I am in today.”

In March 2007, federal authorities raided the Michael Bianco factory and arrested 361 workers, most of whom were from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

Immigrant advocates criticized the March 2007 raid for separating families and leaving children without proper care. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the raid was properly handled.

The company was sold to Eagle Industries of Fenton, Mo., more than a year ago.

Woodlock said he received an “extraordinary group of letters” from Insolia’s supporters — including former Latino employees — who praised the Sicilian-born Insolia as a boss and for his community work.

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