This past Monday, a group of eight senators, four Democrat and four Republican, announced a legislative plan to address the eleven million illegal immigrants who currently reside within the United States. Not only is the makeup of those making the announcement bipartisan, but the ideas within the proposal are as well. The legislation would create a path to citizenship for those who are already within the United States while making significant increases to border security. The following day, President Obama essentially endorsed the Senate proposal. Achieving true immigration reform is something that is politically beneficial to both parties, as it’s an issue that Democrats have sought to address for some time and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the GOP’s disastrous support among Latinos is a recipe for defeat on a national level, something Senator John McCain admitted.
Senator McCain’s public admission of their dire electoral situation highlights the feeling among establishment Republicans who see the writing on the wall that says that unless they do something to address the 3-to-1 advantage Democrats have with Latinos, they are going to be in trouble in future elections. Despite this reality, the base and the non-elected, de-facto representatives of the Republican base are not so pleased with this idea.
Rush Limbaugh says that it is up to him to stop immigration reform from happening. He even believes that immigration is something that doesn’t even need to be addressed to get Latino support. “They have been convinced that Hispanics hate them because of immigration. Now, we know this isn’t true.” He goes on to say that it is the “welfare state” that is the most important issue for Latinos (is he insinuating that the Republicans create more “entitlement” programs to draw in Latino support?).
In the first half of President Obama’s term, health care reform was the primary legislative issue and it was incredibly divisive. Going into this next term, gun control and immigration are likely to be the two most discussed issues and they are far less divisive. And unlike the first term, immigration reform is not something that rallies the entire Republican base. When those in elected positions and their base are at odds completely, then it’s very likely that we’re not going to see the issue used as a rallying cry in two years like we saw healthcare used in 2010.
I ultimately think the bill (mostly intact) will pass both chambers of Congress and we will see serious immigration reform get to the President’s desk before next year’s midterms. And though it will take some Republicans to get the legislation passed, I am unsure of the impact it will have on how the American Latino population votes. It seems to me that Republicans think that this is their golden ticket to electoral heaven. The problem with this line of thinking is that legislative “wins” are typically credited to the sitting President. When the legislation is signed into law it will be President Obama all over the news, making trips to swing states to give speeches about how historic the bill is, not the party that’s in charge of one part of the federal government. When people look back on his time in office and if there was immigration reform passed under him, it will be Obama that gets the credit.
On top of this, I don’t think the infighting that is going to ultimately ensue from various branches of the Republican Party will make their work on the issue appear to be so positive. It will be a check mark for Democrats, but it’s silly to assume that on this one issue Latino party identification is going to result in a seismic shift to the other side.
Good policy is good policy and I will be thrilled to see any legislation make its way to the President’s desk on this issue regardless of the Republican Party’s motivations. Ultimately, though, it’s going to take a lot more than a single piece of legislation and the image of their star Latino Marco Rubio selling the bill to repair the immense damage the party’s image has taken among Latinos.