Press Room

The Political Calculus of Immigration Reform: What Both Parties Stand to Gain or Lose in the Upcoming Legislative Debate

America's Voice | Released on 01/23/2013

Immigration reform has become a win-win-win issue—smart politics for both Republicans and Democrats, and smart policy for the nation.  Gary Segura, a Principal at Latino Decisions, and Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice, gathered on a press call and webinar today to review new Latino Decisions analysis outlining what Republicans lost by following an anti-immigration strategy in the recent past, and what they stand to gain by changing course before the upcoming legislative debate.  The discussion came on the one year “anniversary” of “the day the election was lost by Mitt Romney,” according to Tramonte.  January 23, 2012 was the day Mitt Romney injected his “self-deportation” plan for undocumented immigrants in the race for the presidency, and set in motion his loss in November.  Segura and Tramonte also laid out important takeaways for Democrats on the issue, explaining that Latino voters expect politicians to act on their priorities and “walk the walk” in addition to talking the talk.

According to Segura, “2012 was the first presidential election in history in which Latinos could plausibly claim to be nationally decisive–if Latinos had voted for Mitt Romney in the proportion they voted for President Bush in 2004, we would have inaugurated President Romney on Monday. But there are no guarantees in politics, and the future of the Latino vote has yet to be written. Not only is there room for growth in the Republican column in presidential and congressional elections, but there is room for seepage among Democrats if they don’t take care.”

Tramonte outlined: “If January 23, 2012 was the day Mitt Romney lost the election, then June 15, 2012 was the day Barack Obama won the election.  Obama made a bold move on immigration by finally taking action and providing work permits to DREAMers.  He put some muscle behind his rhetoric, and it paid off handsomely.  There will be another moment of truth coming up soon, when politicians in both parties have a chance to vote for immigration reform and let Latinos know where they stand.  We’re putting this analysis out there now so that it’s clear what both parties stand to gain or lose when the immigration debate gets underway in Congress.”

Added Segura, “While Republicans need to rethink their rhetoric and stop assuming that Latinos are conservative on many issues, Democrats need to invest in candidates of color and deliver on their promises. And while the Latino vote continues to grow in numbers and power, it’s still undermobilized: 11 million Latinos stayed home last November. Both parties need to invest in mobilizing Latino voters to harness the community’s full power.”

During the press briefing, Latino Decisions released this latest analysis, including a clear to do list (and a “not to do” list) for each party.  Among some of the highlights:

  • Hardline immigration positions staked out during the 2012 elections caused GOP to leave votes on the table.  According to election-eve polling by Latino Decisions and ImpreMedia, when asked “If GOP took a lead role in passing comprehensive reform with a path to citizenship, would it make you more likely to vote Republican?,” 31% of Latino voters said they’d be “more likely” to vote Republican, 11% said “less likely” and 41% said it had “no effect.”
    • By leading on immigration, the GOP could finally reach or surpass the coveted 40% mark that so many political analysts believe they will continue to need to win national elections.
    • In fact, if Romney had won the support of 42% of Latinos in November, he would have nailed the popular vote and won states like Florida, Colorado, and New Mexico.
  • It’s not enough for candidates to talk the talk, they have to walk the walk. According to Latino Decisions polling, 60% of Latino voters have a family member or friend who is undocumented.  This means that immigration reform is not just a policy issue, it’s personal, with real-life consequences.  When politicians take bold action, as the President did with his decision to grant work permits to DREAMers, they get bold results. 
  • The stakes are high for both parties as the immigration debate moves forward in Congress.  The Latino Decisions analysis lays out a number of observations about Republican and Democratic outreach to Latinos in recent elections, as well as congressional districts where a vote for or against commonsense immigration reform could help swing the election in 2014.  The implication is clear: the vote on immigration reform matters, and politicians from both parties will be held accountable by Latino voters in future elections.  It’s up to the two parties and individual candidates to decide where they end up. 

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