Editor’s note: Maribel Hasting’s analysis of the key players in the immigration debate was originally published in Spanish at Univision. Below is an excerpt.
Washington, DC – As Congress gets ready to debate immigration reform bills, the players that are part of the discussion are as diverse as their interests.
In past debates this diversity of interests and opinions combined with a hostile political climate, producing the failure of immigration reform the last time it was discussed in 2007. Not even the more limited measure the DREAM Act was able to overcome the test in 2010 when the Senate failed to break a filibuster.
But the presidential election of 2012 changed the political landscape, and the winds started blowing in a pro-reform direction. Diverse interest groups now agree on the urgency and need for immigration reform. Even past rivals have joined together: the Chamber of Commerce and labor unions have released joint principles that they expect to see in a bill. The pro-immigrant movement is better organized and the anti-immigrant movement weaker than before.
The presidential election sent a clear message to both political parties: Latino voters played a pivotal role in the re-election of President Barack Obama, giving him over 71% of their 12.2 million votes. The message: he didn’t fulfill his promise of reform in 2008, but they’ll give him another chance to do so. Democrats seek to solidify the support of Latino voters and Obama hopes that reform, not the massive number of deportations, will be his legacy.
Republicans, for their part, saw years of warnings become reality: Republicans need the Latino vote to win the presidency. In 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney, got barely 27% of the Latino vote with his hard-line anti-immigration positions – including his support for self-deportation. After their disastrous performance, Republican leaders decided to come back to the negotiating table to try and get immigration reform done. The same reform that they’ve rejected for the last decade, ironically, could be their salvation in recovering the White House.
These are some of the main players in the 2013 immigration debate:
THE LATINO VOTE
A main player in the 2012 presidential elections, the “sleeping giant” of the Latino vote has woken up and immigration was without a doubt one of the mobilizing elements. Despite President Obama’s failure to fulfill his 2008 promise of immigration reform, his decision in June 2012 to give temporary relief from deportation to DREAMers served to show Latino voters that he was willing to invest political capital in immigration reform and get it done during his second term. They awarded him the benefit of the doubt, especially when the alternative was a Republican candidate – Mitt Romney – who chose to alienate them, promoted self-deportation as the solution for 11 million undocumented immigrants, and promised to veto the DREAM Act if it ever got to his desk.
Obama received over 71% of the Latino vote in 2012, with Romney receiving the remaining 27%. The role of the Latino vote in determining who occupies the White House—and, underlying it, the role that immigration plays in Latino voters’ perception of candidates and therefore in their voting decision—became clear. The Latino vote was so overwhelming that, within hours of the election, Republican leaders expressed the need to deal with reform quickly.
In November 2012, according to an election-eve poll from Latino Decisions, immigration reform was the most important issue for 35% of Latino voters, while 53% named the economy and jobs. In February 2013, 58% of Latino voters identified immigration as the most important issue, and 38% said the economy.
Have a lot to gain by passing immigration reform – solidifying their support among Latino voters by fulfilling an outstanding promise, and winning over future voters who are currently undocumented.
Also have much to gain. Their political viability in general elections depends on expanding their base and attracting the largest growing demographic and electoral group: Hispanics. Supporting immigration reform is the way to attract that sector of the electorate. A shared victory with Democrats could pay off.
A March Latino Decisions poll for America’s Voice, SEIU and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) found that 44% of Latino voters nationwide say they would be more inclined to vote Republican if the party plays a leadership role in and puts effort into passing immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. This includes 43% of Latinos who voted for Obama in 2012, and 49% of Latinos who identified as independents. As a matter of fact, 52% of Latino voters have supported Republican candidates at some point.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
Promised immigration reform in 2008 during his first presidential campaign. Not only was the promise unfulfilled, but instead Obama broke deportation records – largely through expanding collaboration programs between federal, state and local law enforcement like 287(g) and Secure Communities – every year of his first term. Facing the possibility of an apathetic Latino vote in 2012 due to the absence of reform, Obama gave DREAMers relief from deportation in June 2012, thus mobilizing the Latino vote. Obama wants to be remembered as the President who signed immigration reform into law, not as the President who deported the most immigrants in history.