After Republican defeat in the race for the White House not even a year ago, Romney adviser Ron Kaufman said, “We need to make sure that we’re not perceived as intolerant…[t]he bottom line is we were perceived to be intolerant on some issues. And tone-deaf on others” (Associated Press). I wrote extensively about the importance of the shifting demographics within the United States both before and after the election. The Republican party walked away from the election with very little Hispanic support and in the weeks after the election, many Republicans made overtures towards the Hispanic demographic, which carried over into the bipartisan momentum for S.744.
An important aspect of S.744 – indeed, the bulk of Title II of the senate bill– is a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented. Legalization without a pathway to citizenship creates an underclass of American residents, something that polls consistently show Americans reject. These same polls show a majority support for providing a way for undocumented individuals to become American citizens (Immigration Policy Center, 2013). The ball for immigration reform has been in the House’s court most of the summer. It is exceedingly unlikely that the House will address S.744 directly. If immigration reform moves forward in the House, it will pass a handful of bills addressing aspects of immigration reform and these will go to conference with S.744. Which means that anything that comes out of Congress this year will look very different from the S.744 we have previously summarized.
Despite it being August, when Congress flees the heat and humidity of Washington for their potentially less swampy home districts, this immigration ball has been rolling forward on a district level. Anti-immigrant comments made by Steve King (R-IA), who memorably described DREAMers as having “calves the size of cantaloupes” received significant pushback from the media and from his own party members. Anti-immigrant reform rallies have had an embarrassingly low turn out. As several news sources and non-profts have asserted: pro-immigrant reformers “won” August. Most significantly, more and more Republicans are coming out for immigration reform including a pathway to citizenship. According to America’s Voice, 24 House Republicans have publically supported immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.
Last month, the Republican National Committee (RNC) passed a resolution designed to put pressure on Congress to pass immigration reform. Without the pathway to citizenship. As Benjamin Johnson of the American Immigration Council pointed out, this resolution is an improvement from the 2012 GOP Platform, which effectively incorporated the worst of S.B. 1070 into the Republican Party’s national goals (as discussed previously). It may be an improvement, but polls show that 64% of Hispanics do not support immigration reform that lacks a pathway to citizenship (Latino Decisions, 2013). The RNC, while inching towards reform, is not doing itself any favors with the Hispanic demographics along the way. This despite the fact that the RNC funded a study called the Growth & Opportunity Project, which stiffly concluded in its review of the 2012 election what people have been telling them since well before the election:
If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them, and show our sincerity… among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.
The RNC’s public stance on the pathway to citizenship, combined with Steve King’s publically ignorant comments, have only reinforced the public image of the Republican party as anti-Hispanic and anti-minority. Washington Post’s Greg Sargent eloquently observed that King comments in particular have, “…amplified the raw nativism below the surface of opposition to reform for some — though by no means most — on the right. Fair or not, King has helped tar the GOP among Latinos with an image the party wants to shake.”
If there is hope for the Republican party as a whole, then it lies in raising their voices and passing immigration reform. The “old guard” – prominent Republican figures such as John McCain (R-AZ) and former Secretary of State Colin Powell have been vocal about steering the Republican party towards not alienating minorities. Less vocal, but more important to immigration policy, are congressmen like Rep. John Carter (R-TX), who spoke for compassion in the reform process and emphasized the “families” immigration reform affects. If the numbers of Republican supporters grow and reaches critical mass, immigration reform has a chance of passing. There are 44 currently held Republican districts with 12% or more Hispanic and/or Asian American voters (Huffington Post, 2013). If the Republican party does not get their act together and the minorities with a vested interest in immigration reform effectively mobilize during the mid-term election in 2014, we may see a very different House next year.
Previously, on The Migrationist…
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