It’s been nearly two years since Mitt Romney’s Presidential campaign so clearly demonstrated the importance of Latino voters in national politics. His now famous “self-deportation” strategy won him a dismal 27 percent of the Hispanic vote and rattled the GOP to its core.
After the 2012 election, it seemed the entire GOP supported reform. Even Fox News’ Sean Hannity said he ‘evolved’ on immigration. Leaders in the Republican Party saw the writing on the wall. Speaker John A. Boehner said that he was “confident” Republicans could come up with a comprehensive immigration solution. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) even said that he believed DREAMers should be given legal residence and, eventually, citizenship.
Just five months later, four Democrats and four Republicans introduced a bill in the Senate which passed with strong bipartisan support on June 27, 2013. But that’s when Republicans started to unravel.
How the Republican Party lost Latino voters for a generation
Instead of learning from Mitt Romney and 2012 elections, Republicans let Rep. Steve King drive the party of the demographic cliff with his votes to end DACA and deport DREAMers. From that point on, it was clear that Rep. Steve King was running the Republican immigration agenda.
Despite comments from Republican leaders like Cathy McMorris Rodgers saying immigration a ‘priority’ for 2013 and Speaker Boehner insisting immigration reform was ‘absolutely not’ dead and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) telling CBS that immigration reform is not “dead” and predicted that “it is going to happen,” Rep. Steve King remains the only member of Congress to get votes on immigration.
This year, advocates gave Republicans until the end of June 2014 to show signs of life on a bill, but rather than working to pass legislation, Republicans used the humanitarian crisis of Central American children fleeing gang violence to once again attack young immigrants.
Rep. Darrell Issa used the remaining legislative window to circulate a letter demanding that DREAMers be deported — an idea Bob Goodlatte has echoed in calling for an end to DACA. This week, reform advocates said enough is enough on June 26, 2014 — almost exactly one year after the Senate passed their immigration bill.
The GOP’s failure – and backtracking – on immigration is particularly relevant this year in Colorado. An analysis by Latino Decisions made several key points: Hispanic influence is growing in Colorado; Republicans have lost ground with Colorado Latino voters; Latino voters have significant ties to undocumented immigrants; immigration is a deciding factor for Colorado Hispanic voters; and Latino voters will determine winners in 2014 Colorado elections. Despite these findings, Rep. Cory Gardner, who is running the US Senate, and Rep. Mike Coffman continue to support Rep. Steve King’s anti-immigrant agenda.
Now, with reform possibly off the table for years, it’s likely President Obama will address the deportation crisis and provide work permits to the people covered by the Senate immigration bill. The Senate bill will expire at the end of 2014 and it’s unlikely legislation will move in next Congress. Immigration will be a hot topic in Republican presidential debates. In 2016, 45 million Latino, Asian American, and immigrant voters could once again boycott the Republican Party and decide the outcome of the presidential election. But with their inaction on immigration reform this Congressional session, Republicans are poised to head into yet another presidential election with nothing to show Latino and Asian voters.
As Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain himself said this week: “I can’t tell you we have a great shot at [passing reform this year]. But I know the consequences of failure.” That he does. But it looks like the rest of the GOP is still in denial.