BURBANK, Calif. — As we head toward the 2008 presidential election year, there will be no end of talk about immigration, but don’t look for a lot of action on the part of elected officials. Here are some predictions about how the immigration issue will play out in 2008:
No new immigration initiatives
Presidential candidates from both parties will fudge the issue, talking about the need to secure U.S. borders but offering little new that deals with the millions of illegal immigrants already in this country.
Sen. John McCain told The New Yorker magazine that his support for President Bush’s immigration reform plan probably cost him his frontrunner status among Republican presidential contenders.
Democrats have to juggle the competing priorities of two key constituencies: Latinos and labor. Many blue-collar workers feel illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans and the Democrats don’t want to alienate them.
Latinos will be politically energized
The immigration issue will energize Latino voters in key southwestern swing states. This may be good news for Democrats, but they can’t take the Latino vote for granted. Between January and September of 2007, nearly one million green card holders applied for U.S. citizenship, most indicating a desire to vote in 2008. Their aspirations may be stymied by a huge backlog of immigration applications that the government has been slow in clearing.
The fence won’t get fully built
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has pledged to complete 370 miles of the fence along the Mexican border by October 2008. It won’t happen. In south Texas, DHS and local landowners are bogged down in a dispute over building the fence on privately owned farmland. It pits the government against farmers, labor organizations and environmentalists, and it will probably result in prolonged litigation.
Mexico will muddle along
Mexico will continue to add jobs but not as many as it needs to stem the flow of illegal immigrants to the United States. President Felipe Calderon will continue to face problems with political corruption and drug trafficking, factors which will inhibit investment in his country’s economy. But that won’t stop his government from issuing more rosy press releases about economic progress.
Illegal immigrants will continue to die
The Arizona-based charity Humane Borders says that between November 2006 and November 2007, 245 illegal immigrants died trying to cross from Mexico into the United States, most of the bodies discovered in the Arizona desert. That represents a steep increase from the 199 deaths of the previous year, although it’s less than the record 279 deaths in 2005. While there’ll be a lot of talk about tightening border security in 2008, the death count in the desert will still be somewhere around the 200-250 mark.
George Lewis is an NBC News correspondent based in Burbank, Calif. Click here to see how well George's predictions for 2007 worked out.