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Pop Quiz: What Cuts the Deficit and Mobilizes the Base?

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Cross-Posted at Huffington Post:

Give up? We thought so. The answer? Immigration reform.

That’s right. Too many in the political class are looking in the rear-view mirror when it comes to immigration reform. Despite a number of election cycles in which old presumptions were proven wrong, some still believe comprehensive immigration reform mobilizes the right, saps independent support, and makes Latino voters shrug.

So here’s a political mind-bender for you purveyors of outdated conventional wisdom: Immigration reform divides the right, wins over the center, and mobilizes Latino voters. Oh yeah, and it will cut the deficit.

Like all political conversations these days, let’s start with talk of the tea parties. Without a doubt, they have the political class captivated. We immigrant advocates learned this lesson the hard way. On March 21, over 200,000 people gathered on the National Mall in D.C. to call for comprehensive immigration reform–the largest rally of the Obama era. But the media barely noticed. They were focused on a couple hundred protesters at the Capitol. Apparently, a few angry people screaming and spitting is more newsworthy than nearly a quarter of a million members representing the fastest-growing group of new voters in the country.

Isn’t an immigration reform debate going to generate more fury among Tea Partiers than health care did?  A new poll by the Winston Group, a Republican firm, finds that “the tea party movement is largely motivated out of economic and fiscal concerns” and not immigration issues. According an analysis by Noah Kristula-Green of FrumForum:

If Obama decides to tackle immigration reform next, some have wondered what the tea party response would be. Interestingly, it may not be an issue for most rank and file tea party members. When asked whether immigration was an issue that motivated how they voted, tea parties responded that it was just as low on their priority list as the average population. They also gave “cracking down on immigration” as a “best” way to create jobs nearly same weight as the average voter—which is to say, not as much weight as tax cuts or developing energy resources.

Implication: Some have argued that if the Democrats move to immigration reform, that the tea party movement will reveal itself to be driven by anti-immigrant sentiment. The data does not suggest that this should be expected.