Saturday, June 29, 2013

Future of GOP may depend on immigration reform

The immigration reform bill is headed to the House of Representatives and an uncertain future. The Senate passed the bill overwhelmingly on Thursday with a 68-32 vote. Fourteen Republican senators joined the entire Democratic caucus to pass the bill.

The immigration reform bill is likely to face strong Republican opposition in the House, but many conservatives argue that passage of the bill will be a boon to Republicans. As previously reported by Examiner, Republicans lost an embarrassing percentage of the Hispanic and Asian vote in 2008 and 2012. The GOP won only 31 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008 and did even worse in 2012 with 27 percent. Likewise, the percentage of Asians voting for the GOP declined from 35 percent in 2008 to 26 percent in 2012.

It wasn’t always this way. As recently as 2004, George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote and 43 percent of Asians according to exit polls from the Roper Center. In 2000, Bush won 35 and 41 percent of those groups respectively. Bob Dole in 1996 won 21 percent of Hispanics and 48 percent of Asians. George H.W. Bush won 25 percent of Hispanics and 55 percent of Asians in 1992 and 30 percent of Hispanics in 1988. The fluidity of these statistics indicates that other minority groups are far less solid in their support of Democrats than are blacks, who only voted less than 90 percent Democrat in 1992 when Ross Perot split the vote.

At the same time, the number of white voters as a percentage of the electorate has been declining. In 1988, 85 percent of voters were white. By 2004, the number had declined to 77 percent. In 2008, the percentage of white voters fell to 74 percent and, in 2012, reached an all-time low of 72 percent.

It should be noted that Republican support from Hispanics peaked in 2004 after George W. Bush proposed an immigration reform bill. It should also be noted that Republican support from Hispanics cratered after Mitt Romney proposed “self-deportation” of illegal aliens, an idea that may have cost him the election according to Forbes.

It is obvious from these statistics that in order to survive the Republican Party must do better to reach out to minorities. It would be difficult for any GOP candidate to do better than among white voters than the 59 percent won by Romney, but it is not longer good enough to do well among white voters.

This does not mean that Republicans should adopt Democratic positions on issues such as affirmative action or compromise their principles. Republican principles work to better the nation as a whole and would be beneficial to everyone, but in order to get this message across Republicans first need to gain credibility with minorities.

Protecting an obviously broken immigration system or espousing a no-mercy system of deportation are not good ways to gain credibility as Mitt Romney learned. To the contrary, the GOP may start losing support from farmers and businessmen who depend on immigrant labor if the party shuts off the supply of illegal workers without replacing it with legal ones. When Georgia passed a strict immigration law two years ago, it led to shortages of farm workers that left crops rotting in the fields.

Good immigration reform should be tough, but fair. Fairness does not include eliminating any possibility of forgiveness for illegal immigrants who came to this country years ago, often as children, and have no other country to go back to. Many others have children who were born in this country and are U.S. citizens. Splitting families up through deportation would not help Republicans at the polls.

According to the U.S. Code, “improper entry by an alien” is a civil infraction punishable by “not more than six months” in jail or fined “at least $50 but not more than $250.” In contrast, according to How Stuff Works, the average U.S. fine for speeding, another often committed infraction, is $150. Should illegal aliens forego all possibility of citizenship ex post facto for such a trivial crime? Eighty-seven percent of Americans say no according to a June 19 Gallup poll. Even 86 percent of Republicans agree.

By agreeing to common sense immigration reform, including enhanced border security, the Republican Party would remove a prime roadblock towards reaching out to minorities. To the contrary, Republicans in Congress could hold out and scuttle a bipartisan agreement that even 86 percent of their own party favors. What would be the result? Republican immigration foes might prevent the current generation of illegals from voting, but they won’t prevent their children who are native U.S. citizens from doing so. If the next generation sees Republicans as racist and unfair, people who don’t want them in the country, then they will most assuredly vote Democrat.

The most likely result would be that President Obama would use his executive powers to grant a de facto amnesty as he did last summer when, five months before the election, he unilaterally announced that the federal government would halt deportation of illegal immigrants who entered the country as children and canceled federal law enforcement agreements with Arizona. Obama has made broad use of executive authority, recently announcing a plan to regulate carbon by decree since Congress has not passed cap-and-trade. He would not shrink from doing the same thing with immigration.

The Democrats would also be certain to pass an amnesty bill if they regain control of Congress. The Democrats failed to address immigration when they controlled all of Congress from 2009 through 2011. They will not make the same mistake twice and a Democratic bill would definitely not include border security provisions craved by conservatives. A Democratic amnesty would ensure that Hispanics would become a permanent Democratic voting bloc.

Perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of an immigration compromise would be Republican presidential candidates in 2016. If the immigration issue is settled prior to the campaign, GOP contenders will not have to balance between the hardliners on the party’s right and moderates in the rest of the country. If Mitt Romney had favored reform, he might have won the general election, but would probably have lost the nomination.

Compromising on immigration reform is not a sure path to minority votes for Republicans. Party members and elected officials will still have to reach out to members of minority groups and show up at events in their neighborhoods. It will, however, remove a major obstacle that prevents minorities from being open to other Republican ideas and principles. The alternative is to stand in the way of a tsunami of public opinion.

Originally published on National Elections Examiner

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