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At a Politico Playbook breakfast yesterday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) made an important comment about the politics of immigration reform and why it is so critical for Republicans to engage on the issue. As Elise Foley reported at Huffington Post:
“As you look at demographics in states like mine, that means that we will go from Republican to Democrat over time,” [McCain] said.
McCain is talking about the dire straits the GOP finds itself in after the last election, when Romney lost the Latino vote to President Obama by more than a 3-1 margin. As the Latino vote demographic continues to grow, so does the Republican fear that a changing electorate might prevent them from ever seeing the inside of the White House again. Latinos were 12% of the electorate last November, up from 10% in 2010; the percentage is expected to double by 2030. When Latinos grow to be 15% of the national electorate, McCain’s home state of Arizona is expected to turn blue. When Latinos become 19% of the national electorate, Texas is expected to turn blue. And when that happens, as Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) recently said, “the Republican Party will go the way of the Whigs.”
So as we discuss the big developments in immigration of the last few days and commend bipartisan moves, let’s not forget why Republicans are at the table in the first place: because they have to be, because their survival as a party depends on it. And, Democrats need to remember that they’ve kept the White House and the Senate majority by leaning into the immigration issue.
Which means that really, the discussion should not begin with border enforcement and triggers that must happen before citizenship can take place. Let’s be clear: voters rejected that in the last election—and continue to reject it in recent polls. Instead, the debate on immigration reform should be about what it’s always been about: people moving in search of a better life, and how our economy needs immigrants. The first line in today’s supportive editorial in the Chicago Tribune sums up the situation, courtesy of Senator Menendez:
Americans support it. Latino voters expect it. Democrats want it. Republicans need it.
Republicans trying to hijack the immigration debate should remember just how much they stand to lose if they fail to help deliver on immigration reform. Democrats engaged in the discussion need to remember their priority is citizenship, not border security.
Latino voters will be a force in the next Congressional and presidential elections too—and they’re watching to see who delivers.