[Our guest blogger is Henry Fernandez, a Senior Fellow at the Center For American Progress Action Fund working on state and municipal issues.]
Jim Oberweis lost former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s previously solid Republican seat to Bill Foster. In so doing, he drove one more nail into the conservative anti-immigrant strategy. Oberweis is an anti-immigrant zealot who has served on the board of NumbersUSA, an organization which seeks to dramatically limit even legal immigration. (NumbersUSA is part of a coalition of organizations founded by John Tanton that have demonized immigrants who are not white and built ties to hate groups.)
Despite voters’ concerns over the war in Iraq, economic recession, and the mortgage crisis, Oberweis’ website listed immigration as his number one issue. Among other draconian positions, Oberweis calls for denying children born in the United States to immigrants the right to U.S. citizenship, something which would require revoking the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
Oberweis’ staunch anti-immigrant views may have blinded him to the changing demographics of Illinois’ 14th Congressional district. Over the last decade, increasing numbers of Latinos and Asians have moved into the 14th, while the number of naturalized citizens grew from 25,224 to 40,159. The Latino population was already 18.5 percent in 2000.
Oberweis, a wealthy owner of dairy stores, was targeted by grassroots supporters of comprehensive immigration reform. They found he had the same problem as erstwhile Presidential candidate Mitt Romney — he employed undocumented immigrants while bashing them on the campaign trail. The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and the Chicago Workers Collaborative uncovered Oberweis’ hypocrisy. According to Joshua Hoyt, head of ICIRR:
Jorge and Rosa, two undocumented immigrants, were cleaning Oberweis ice cream stores and being paid $3.23 an hour. America does not respect hypocrites who bully undocumented immigrants and then turn around and profit from their labor; America does not respect politicians who do not tell the truth.
Many conservative politicians hope that attacking immigrants is a magic electoral bullet. But facts on the ground do not bear this out. In a precinct-level review of Latino voters, the conservative Americas Majority Foundation found that anti-immigrant rhetoric will cause conservatives to lose House seats and potentially the Presidency. The Foundation’s Richard Nadler argues that Latinos who voted for conservatives like George Bush will not vote for immigration demagogues. He concludes: “Any policy that induces mass fear in illegal aliens will induce mass anger in legal aliens (sic).”
Hoyt reports that the Latino vote did come out to defeat Oberweis. “There is no question immigration was central to Foster’s 5,000 vote victory. In the bellwether city of Aurora, he won by just over 3,200 votes by scoring big margins in Latino neighborhoods. Latino and immigrant activists worked hard to get this vote out.” This in a district where Hastert had beaten his last three opponents by margins of 48, 38 and 20 percent respectively.