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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Acoustic Separation and Immigration Reform

In Decisions Rules and Conduct Rules: Acoustic Separation in Criminal Law, Meir Dan-Cohen talked about the partial acoustic separation between criminal rules as understood by the public and criminal rules as understood by the courts imposing sanctions.  For example, we believe that in some cases, a person committing a crime under duress is not legally culpable - and her conduct may be excused.  But we don't want people running around factoring in this possibility of  legal excuse into their decisions at the moments they are actually under duress.  We want them to experience the full legal risk of their conduct at that moment so that we can conclude they really were acting under the most extreme pressure.  

I give this background only by way of explaining the concept.  My rumination today has a first cousin relationship to Dan-Cohen's framework.

I was struck by the decision of Republicans to take two approaches to immigration in their response to the President's State of the Union.  To English speakers, Joni Ernst made no mention of immigration at all.  That is the story the GOP wants to tell to its English language base.  But the party also needs support from the Spanish speaking community as well.  So to this pool of voters, Rep. Carlos Curbello stated in his Spanish language response,  "We should also work through the appropriate channels to create permanent solutions for our immigration system, to secure our borders, modernize legal immigration, and strengthen our economy."

I imagine that this separation will be reasonably effective - if, perhaps, not deeply consequential.  Acoustic separation is never complete, but most people don't dig that deeply into law or policy.  While the policy wonks who read Politico now know that the GOP has two slightly approaches to immigration reform - one being silence and the other marking immigration as a priority - most voters will not.  I'm not sure that Curbello's comments would have deeply alienated the GOP base - though I'm guessing that GOP speechwriters thought immigration wouldn't be a galvanizing issue for her English language listeners. Maybe they imagined it might even drive a few voters away.  (Indeed, the GOP later flipped on whether Curbello's statement was the Spanish language response - though that flip itself was presumably largely invisible.)

I know that candidates and parties commonly frame issues differently in media outlets targeted to divergent demographic groups.  Perhaps this was just a case of my own naïveté in thinking that was was such a thing as "the Republican response to the State of the Union".   In any case, it foreshadows and highlights a fundamental challenge for the GOP over the next two years. 

Posted by Dan Filler on January 21, 2015 at 11:34 AM in Current Affairs, Immigration | Permalink

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