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GOP Immigration “Trigger” Amendments: Driven By Political Insecurity, Not Border Security

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National Journal reports that anti-immigrant House members are asking why Republicans should pass legislation that would give citizenship to “11 million undocumented Democrats.”  This fear of citizenship – and future voting behavior – courses through much of the immigration debate and underscores many Republican amendments designed to make the path to citizenship less attainable.  As conservative Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) recently said of the focus of the immigration debate among House Republicans, “It’s about the 11 million. That’s always the issue.”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

The GOP amendments to harden the ‘triggers,’ are driven by political insecurity, not border security.  In fact, the enforcement provisions already in the Senate’s bill amount to the largest enforcement increase in American history.  Too many Republicans are letting their fears of how the largely Latino undocumented population might vote in the distant future dictate their policy.  But by advancing hardline immigration policies that threaten the path to citizenship and label the undocumented as criminals, Republicans are cementing their current reputation as anti-immigrant and anti-Latino and giving the much larger voting block of existing Latino voters more incentive to vote against them.

See below for the why the Republicans’ political fears are both misplaced and threaten to make their existing political predicament with Latino voters worse:

  • Fool’s Errand to Predict Voting Behavior in 2026 – 13 Years is a Long Time in Politics:  Current undocumented immigrants who would qualify for legalization and eventual citizenship would not be eligible to vote until at least the 2026 elections, under the Senate’s immigration plan.  Thirteen years is a long time in politics – just think, in 2000, President Barack Obama lost a Democratic House primary by a 2:1 margin to Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL).  And just eight years ago, the Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush received 40% of the Latino vote.  Point being, it’s a fool’s errand to predict the partisan preferences and voting patterns of a group of new voters from the vantage point of at least 13 years out, especially if both parties share credit in working to pass immigration reform.
  • Republicans’ Continued Embrace of Hardline Immigration Policies Drives Away Current Latino Voters:  A recent Latino Decisions poll shows that immigration continues to be as the top issue Latino voters want addressed.  Immigration is also a motivating issue for this growing community, with 34% of Latino voters more likely to vote for the GOP if they work to pass immigration reform and 59% less likely to vote for the GOP if they try to block it.  Additionally, 52% of Hispanics said that even if they disagree with the GOP on other issues they would be more favorable to the Republican Party if they pass immigration reform, including 55% of prior GOP voters, 47% of Democrats and 60% of Independents.  This reason immigration reform is a priority is that its personal.  Two-thirds of Latino voters have a close relationship with someone who is undocumented, including over 1 in 3 who have a family member who is in the U.S. without papers.  The demographic imperative for the Republican Party to get right with Latino voters is getting ever more acute – every month some 50,000 Latino voters turn 18.  The fastest way for the Party to repair its relationship with Latino voters is to work to pass good immigration reform.  The way to make the hole they are in deeper is to vote to deport DREAMers, label immigrants as criminals, and to block opportunities for aspiring Americans.
  • Conservative Voices Push Back Against Underlying GOP Fears:  Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin recently captured the fallacy of the political opponents’ argument about future voting fears, writing: “To say that those who came here for a better life (an entrepreneurial act) and went through all the financial requirements and trouble to get citizenship and then to vote can’t be won over by conservatives is preposterous.  (If it is true, by the way, conservatism should die because a political philosophy applicable to only one race or social class is not morally or politically sustainable.)  Moreover, this overlooks the reality that until they stop threatening to deport immigrants, conservatives will not get an audience with a range of minority communities and will continue to offend moderate voters, women, and young urbanites who regard the GOP as ‘intolerant.’”  Republican strategist Karl Rove similarly noted in a recent Wall Street Journal column, “Immigration reform is now a gateway issue: Many Hispanics won’t be open to Republicans until it is resolved, which could take the rest of the year.”  And Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) noted this past weekend, “We’re in a demographic death spiral as a party and the only way we can get back in good graces with the Hispanic community in my view is pass comprehensive immigration reform.  If you don’t do that, it really doesn’t matter who we run in my view,” referring to the 2016 presidential race.