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As the immigration debate begins in earnest, it’s important to remember how we’ve come to this moment in time, and why the progress of immigration reform this year must be different. As Jordan Fabian at ABC News/Univision today points out, this time Republicans need immigration reform—because they need to solve their “Hispanic problem.” Here’s an excerpt from his analysis:
For the first time in over five years, immigration reform appears to have a real chance of passing through Congress in no small part because Republicans lawmakers have joined in the process.
Republicans working on immigration reform have openly acknowledged that political considerations are a big reason they are at the table. If the GOP helps pass an immigration reform plan, the theory goes, it takes the issue “off the table” and would allow the party to reach out to Hispanic voters, who flocked to President Barack Obama in the last two elections.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Republican, is one of the eight senators working on an immigration. McCain believes that his party could lose ground in traditionally red states with growing Latino populations if his party helps sink an immigration deal.
“As you look at demographics in states like mine, that means that we will go from Republican to Democrat over time,” he said at a breakfast sponsored by Politico on Wednesday morning.
Why do Latino voters care so much about immigration? And why exactly will a GOP bungling of this issue doom their future with Latino voters?
Latino voters may list other issues like the economy and jobs higher in importance than immigration in public opinion polls, but it serves as the ultimate “gateway issue” for earning the trust of Hispanic and Latino voters.
Sixty percent of Latino voters said they know a friend, relative or co-worker who is undocumented, and thus face the threat of deportation under current law, according to an election eve poll conducted by political opinion research firm Latino Decisions. And national exit polling showed that three-quarters of Latino voters support a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for legal status. Polling also indicates that the Republican Party’s stance and rhetoric on immigration fueled highly negative perceptions of the GOP among Latinos.
Simply put, immigration is a very personal issue for most Latino voters and they strongly support a bill similar to what’s being discussed right now. It’s unlikely that Republicans will be able to establish enough credibility among Hispanic voters to break through on issues like the economy and size of government unless they first address immigration.
As the Washington Post editorial board put it this morning: “It may not erase all the GOP’s woes with Hispanic voters if the party goes along with a plan that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented residents. But blocking a deal will almost certainly cement those problems for a generation or more.”
It is hard to judge how much it would help the GOP to pass immigration reform. But a recent report by Latino Decisions gives up a glimpse. Thirty-one percent of Latino voters say that they would be more likely to vote Republican if the party look a lead role in passing comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, according to their polling. That includes 27 percent of the nearly three-quarters of Hispanic voters who backed Obama over Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
There are also those who suggest that simply reframing the Republican Party’s message on immigration would enough — saying “undocumented” instead of “illegal immigrant,” for example, but not changing fundamental policy. But as long as the issue remains unresolved, or “on the table,” Democrats will blame Republicans for its failure. And no matter who is actually to blame, it’s a safe bet that most Hispanic and Latino voters are likely to pin blame on Republicans given how poor the party’s brand is in the community…
The GOP’s hopes for breaking through to Latino voters will be inextricably tied to how the party handles the current debate over comprehensive immigration reform.
Something for Republicans to remember when they focus on immigration reform components like border security rather than straightforward citizenship. Read Jordan Fabian’s full column here.