Republicans in the House of Representatives seem to be planning to ignore immigration reform this Congress, to the detriment of the country, Colorado, and their own political interests. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and his fellow Republicans have offered weak excuses for their inaction, despite the fact that the votes exist to pass immigration reform in the House today if immigration reform was allowed a vote. But what Republicans appear to be ignoring is that by failing to act this year, they may well be losing their last chance in a generation to have a say in immigration policy and to reap the benefits with Latino voters.
As Republicans stall, advocates across the country are continuing to ramp up pressure on President Obama to act in the interim. The steady pace of over 1,000 deportations every day has created a moral crisis that must be addressed. This crisis has left the immigration reform movement no choice but to push for a solution this year, be it legislative or administrative. If House Republicans continue to play politics and block immigration reform leading up to November, then the window of opportunity for floor action on immigration reform this year will close and the GOP will cede the initiative to President Obama to take action on deportation relief. Recent history provides a template – in 2010 Republicans blocked the DREAM Act; in 2011 advocates and Capitol Hill allies pressured the President to take administrative action (including a notable moment at a NCLR conference); and in 2012 the President provided relief to more than a half million Dreamers through the DACA program. This not only helped real people, it helped President Obama reap political rewards.
As we have noted, there is little chance that immigration reform will be easier in 2015 for Republicans, despite the wishful thinking and recent comments of some. This means that if Republicans block reform this year, the next time immigration reform has a serious chance of passage is on the other side of the 2016 elections – an election cycle in which the Republicans are risking an electoral tsunami if they block immigration reform this year. The question for House Republicans, and especially Republicans in the Colorado delegation, is whether they are willing to step up and be part of the solution, or if they will sit back and watch Democrats expand their already huge margin among Latino, Asian, and immigrant voters to the Republicans’ 2016 and longer-term political peril?
Colorado Republicans such as Reps. Scott Tipton (CO-03), Cory Gardner (CO-04), and Mike Coffman (CO-06) are in a key position to help their Party make the right choice to address immigration reform. Simply saying the right things is not enough. They need an actual immigration accomplishment to take home to voters before the 2014 elections (especially in the case of Rep. Gardner) and certainly before the 2016 cycle. But beyond the Colorado delegation’s immediate political future looms the larger threat to the national GOP. Failing to act on immigration this year makes it all the more likely that the issue will remain unresolved before the 2016 elections, jeopardizing the GOP’s chances of taking back the White House and winning key Senate seats. The decision House Republicans make regarding immigration in 2014 will have huge ramification for the Party for elections to come.
Political Consequences: Why Absence of Immigration Reform in 2014 Spells Political Disaster for GOP in 2016 and Beyond
After the 2012 elections, there was consensus that the Republican Party’s hardline immigration stance had become suicidal. Yet some Republicans seem to have forgotten this lesson and are now counseling blocking reform and reinforcing their anti-immigrant brand image for another election cycle. This Congress, the only immigration measures the full House has voted on were an amendment by anti-immigrant extremist Rep. Steve King (R-IA) to defund Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and subject DREAMers to deportation as well as two anti-immigrant bills voted on last week designed to strip President Obama’s executive authority to protect DREAMers and military spouses from deportation. All four members of Colorado’s Republican House delegation voted in favor of each of these measures – not exactly a strong stance for a party desperate to improve its image on immigration and to Latino voters.
- Lessons for 2014 from the 2010 Cycle? In 2010, a year in which Republicans won big at every level, Colorado – along with Nevada and California – provided a “Latino firewall” for Democrats and helped them save the Senate. This was in large part due to the clear distinctions between the pro-reform Democratic candidates, who leaned into the issue during their campaigns, and the anti-reform Republican candidates, whose hard-right views alienated and mobilized Latino voters. According to 2010 election eve polling of Latino voters in Colorado conducted by Latino Decisions, immigration was a major mobilizing issue: 84% of Colorado Latino voters said immigration was important with 29% saying it was “the most important” issue. Not surprisingly, then, Senator Michael Bennet, the pro-immigration reform candidate, beat Ken Buck, then a hardline opponent of immigration reform, by a whopping 81% – 19%. Similar dynamics could be at play between Congressman Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) in a potential 2014 Senate race. Initially, Rep. Gardner was talking out of both sides of his mouth on immigration – depending on the audience. But just recently, Rep. Gardner came out against House Republican leadership’s immigration principles, per a Roll Call analysis. Meanwhile, he voted this Congress to support extremist Rep. Steve King’s amendment to defund the DACA program and subject DREAMers to deportation. In Rep. Gardner’s own district, polling conducted by Magellan Strategies in October 2013 showed that 76% of likely 2014 voters, including 77% of Republican respondents, supported immigration legislation modeled after the provisions in the Senate’s immigration bill.
- At some point you have to wonder—when does the GOP reach the point of no return with Latino, Asian, and immigrant voters? If Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans block reform this year, they will squander an historic opportunity to shape immigration reform policy and re-brand themselves among key (and rapidly growing) voting groups. In addition to implications for the 2016 presidential race, Republicans will be defending 24 Senate seats in 2016 – seven in states carried by Obama – while Democrats need only to defend 10 seats. Some experts are suggesting the possibility of a filibuster-proof majority for Senate Democrats. And in an election year in which the voting population swells by a third – especially with Latino, Asian American, immigrant and youth voters – 2016 will present an opportunity for Democrats to take the House, too. In Colorado, by the 2016 elections, Latino voters will comprise 16 percent of the overall electorate with 92,100 more eligible voters than in 2012, according to a Center for American Progress report. The already difficult political path for Colorado Republicans currently may be all the more impassible if the GOP cements its anti-immigrant brand image by blocking reform.
- There’s broad support for immigration reform—both in Colorado and across the country: The American public broadly and consistently backs immigration reform with a path to citizenship. In Colorado, a November 2013 poll sponsored by a trio of Republican groups found that, in the words of Allison Sherry of the Denver Post, “More than three-quarters of Colorado Republicans back a minimum 13-year path to citizenship for people living in the U.S. without legal permission if they learn English, pass a criminal background check and pay taxes and fees, according to a recent poll…46 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of Democrats are more likely to support an elected official who supports comprehensive immigration reform. Twenty-one percent of Republicans said they were ‘less likely’ to vote for someone who supports immigration reform.” The broad support for tackling immigration reform, including a path to legal status and citizenship for undocumented immigrants, also extends to specific congressional districts of the Republicans in the Colorado congressional delegation. As this breakdown of district-specific polling in CO-03 (Tipton), CO-04 (Gardner), and CO-06 (Coffman) shows, even voters in the Republican sections of Colorado are overwhelmingly in favor of immigration reform.
Policy & Moral Consequences: Squandered Economic Benefits & the Human Toll of Legislative Inaction
Every day the House delays a vote on immigration reform, over 1,100 people in America are deported, leaving thousands more citizen children, spouses, and other relatives behind. While House Republicans continue to complain that President Obama is not enforcing the law, the truth is that immigrant families are getting ripped apart at an unprecedented rate under this Administration’s harsh enforcement policies. Enforcement-only has been the default immigration strategy of the United States for over two decades. If we are serious about modernizing the system so that it serves our nation’s interests and reflects our values, enforcement needs to be coupled with a path to citizenship and legal immigration reforms. Further, a series of existing roadblocks and barriers in our current immigration system, are both keeping immigrants in an permanent undocumented status and tearing American families apart (see America’s Voice’s fact sheet on some of the restrictions that prevent immigrants from “getting legal” and the devastating impact on American families). Our country continues to spend an outrageous amount of money enforcing bad laws against good people – here are the facts:
- President Obama has presided over a record-high number of deportations and is on track to reach the 2 million mark in the next several weeks. Hundreds of thousands of these immigrants would have qualified for legal status and citizenship under pending the legislation.
- 152,426 U.S. citizen children had parents who were deported in fiscal year 2012.
- Over 200,800 adults with U.S. citizen children were deported between July 1, 2010 and September 31, 2012, accounting for 23% of all deportations over that time period.
- 85% of undocumented Latinos have a U.S. citizen family member and 62% have U.S. born children.
- More than two-thirds of undocumented Latinos have lived in the U.S. for a decade or more.
- The U.S. government spends $18 billion a year on immigration enforcement, more than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined
- The Border Patrol has doubled in recent years to a record high of 21,000 agents.
- Net unauthorized immigration into the U.S. is zero.
This enforcement-only approach is not just morally objectionable, but it also squanders the potential economic benefits that immigrants provide to our country and our national bottom line. In economic terms, immigration reform is poised to help grow the economy, reduce the deficit, bolster job creation, and strengthen the viability of Social Security and Medicare (according to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of the Senate immigration bill). Immigration is the rare policy issue that the Chamber of Commerce and the American labor movement both support addressing. The agriculture industry also has a compelling need for immigration reform – a recent study from the American Farm Bureau highlighted the need for reform’s passage and noted that shifting further toward an enforcement-only approach would result in lower agricultural production and a spike in food prices for American consumers.
It’s Now or Never for Colorado Republicans
While House Republicans stall on immigration, the Republican brand among Latino voters is getting worse by the day and millions of American families are getting ripped apart by broken immigration laws. Colorado Republicans should know better than many of their Republican colleagues that association with anti-immigration, anti-Latino policies can doom a Party’s political prospects, as they are still reeling from the effects of Tom Tancredo and the missed opportunity of the 2010 Senate race.
It’s now or never for Colorado Republicans like Reps. Scott Tipton (CO-03), Cory Gardner (CO-04), and Mike Coffman (CO-06). Either they show leadership on this issue by pressuring Republican leaders to address and pass immigration reform or they cede the initiative to President Obama and the Democrats. If they continue to block reform, these Members will be doing their part to ensure that the national Republican Party cements its reputation as an anti-Hispanic, anti-Asian and anti-immigrant party for elections to come, while threatening their own political futures in 2014 and 2016.