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Latino Voters Not Buying What GOP Immigration Bills Are Selling

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For a Republican Party in need of a new brand image on immigration and a big change with Latino voters, their initial legislative efforts are not measuring up to the depths of their challenges.

Yesterday, retiring Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) introduced the ACHIEVE Act, a more restrictive alternative to the DREAM Act that notably would not provide a path to citizenship for qualified individuals.  One of the leading DREAMer organizations, United We Dream, called ACHIEVE “a cynical ploy” and reiterated their insistence on “a roadmap to citizenship for the entire community.”

Separate from the GOP-sponsored ACHIEVE Act in the Senate, House Republicans are moving forward on Rep. Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) STEM bill, legislation that would result in the elimination of an entire category of legal immigration, the diversity visa program, in order to increase the number of visas for high-skilled workers.  The New York Times editorial writer Lawrence Downes characterized the Smith STEM package as “an old strategy, repackaged. If the Republicans are going to offer real immigration reform, they will have to do better than this.”

Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund said:

We welcome Republicans coming forward with new immigration proposals, but the operative word is ‘new.’  We had an election.  If Republicans in Congress really do get that they have a Latino problem and want to address it, they need to make bold changes rather than simply rewarming their old ideas.

As a new analysis from Latino Decisions makes clear, not only will immigration half-measures fail to address our policy challenges, but they won’t solve Republicans’ political problems either.  In a new post titled, “What Latinos Want – Immigration Reform Bill,” Latino Decisions co-founder and Stanford University professor Gary Segura looks at the past 18 months of Latino Decisions polling data to determine what Latino voters want from immigration legislation.  Segura writes:

Meaningful adjustment of status with a path to citizenship.  Latino voters, indeed ALL voters, prefer a comprehensive reform plan that includes a path to citizenship.  For non-Latinos, the preferred path is an “earned” citizenship, which likely includes provisions regarding back taxes and learning English.  But the bottom line is that the creation of a permanent alien class, guest workers or another form of residency that never turns into full social membership, is a non-starter.

In our June 2011 poll, 75% of Latino registered voters wanted a comprehensive approach with a path to citizenship while only 14% preferred a “guest worker” approach.  In November of 2011, we asked the same question to a sample of all American registered voters, regardless of race and ethnicity.  We found then that 58% of all registered voters (including 53% of self-identified Republicans) favored a path to citizenship, while only 14% preferred the guest worker approach and only 25% favored deportation.  Curiously, Fox News repeated our question on their December 2011 poll and found the same results—although support for a path to citizenship was actually higher in Fox’s poll among all citizens and Republicans alike!

Latinos voters are simply not going to be happy with an outcome that keeps Latino immigrants on the margins of society.  And if the GOP is identified as the key obstacle stopping a path to citizenship for Latino immigrants, the party will have accomplished little towards Sean Hannity’s goal of getting the issue behind them.  Should the GOP lead a bill with too many punitive measures, or should the bill pass with little GOP support, any electoral advantage that might come to the GOP from moving the immigration issue forward could be lost or, worse, backfire.  Our election eve poll found that 31% of our respondents would be more likely to support a Republican if the party took the lead on reforming immigration.  Electoral benefits, alas, will require constructive action.”

Segura marshals recent Latino Decisions polling data to demonstrate that Latino voters also favor “Reasonable, but not excessive, prerequisites to status adjustment” and “More generous treatment of ‘Dream’-eligible youth.”