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Rise in GOP Anti-Immigrant Policy & Rhetoric on Wrong Side of Three Key Trendlines

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As GOP Anti-Immigrant Politics Ratchets Up: Number of Undocumented Immigrants Declines; Latino Opinion of GOP Tanks; and Number of Latino Voters Rises

One of the dominant storylines of the Republicans’ 2016 presidential primary campaign has been the ascendance of anti-immigrant policy and rhetoric. Donald Trump’s attempt to mainstream hate and racism toward at Mexicans, Muslims and the “other,” has ushered in a GOP-wide scramble to the far right on immigration.  The entire Republican presidential field pledges to ramp up enforcement, end immigration executive action programs, and questions the wisdom of creating a path to citizenship – despite majority support for these measures among Americans.  The GOP’s leading contenders are running on mass-deportation or self-deportation platforms, proudly trumpeting their associations with Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and receiving the explicit support and endorsement of white nationalist leaders in America.

Yet Republicans’ lurch to the right is at odds with demographic and political realities, putting their general election chances in deeper peril.  Despite Republicans’ obsession with immigration enforcement at the primary level, the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. today is actually on the decline.  Meanwhile, new polling finds that Latinos are growing more alienated from the Republican Party as a result of the 2016 campaign, while recent analysis underscores the fact that Latino political power is growing, as the number of eligible and actual Latino voters continues to rise.

“We’ve been telling Republicans for years that their anti-immigrant obsession puts them outside the mainstream of public opinion and is jeopardizing their political future.  The trend lines are going one way, while GOP candidates engage in a race to the bottom on the other side.  This strategy may whip up some primary voters, but will cause long-term, lasting damage with Latino, APIA, and immigrant voters, as well as others who care about fair immigration reform.  Perhaps Republicans have to lose yet another national election in order to get it, but it would be better for the country and the GOP if they’d change their ways now,” said Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice.

Below is more detail on three trend lines that call into question the wisdom of the GOP’s anti-immigrant lurch: 

The number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. is declining

new report from the Center for Migration Studies finds that the undocumented immigrant population in the United States has continued to decline and is now estimated at 10.9 million – a figure more than a million persons fewer than in 2008 and the lowest total since 2003.  Summarizing the report for the Washington Post, Jerry Markon writes how the findings contradict much of what the Republican field is saying on immigration: “Republican candidates, led by Donald Trump, have portrayed the border as overwhelmed by illegal immigrants who must be kept out by a massive wall the New York developer proposes to build.”  Markon also quotes Kevin Appleby, the Center for Migration Studies’ senior director of international migration policy saying, “The facts of the report tell a different story than what you might hear on the campaign trail or in the halls of Congress, where many send a message that we’re being overrun by undocumented immigrants.  The facts and the data show that’s just not true. Hopefully, political discourse will be more fact-based going forward.”

The Republican brand image among Latino voters is plummeting (even further) 

The Republicans’ anti-immigrant – and in some cases, explicitly anti-Latino – 2016 campaigns are unsurprisingly taking a toll on the GOP’s brand image with Latinos (a brand image that was already was negative).

The latest NBC/WSJ poll finds that the 2016 presidential primary campaigns have made Latino voters 32 percentage points less favorable about the Republican Party and 12 percentage points more favorable about the Democrats.

As a reminder, in 2012, Latino voters ended up supporting President Obama by a 75%-23% margin over Mitt Romney in the 2012 general election, according to Latino Decisions Election Eve polling (71%-27% in media-sponsored exit polls) – in large part due to Romney’s call for the “self-deportation” of 11 million undocumented immigrants, his pledge to veto the DREAM Act, and his endorsement of the Arizona crackdown on immigrants as a model for the nation.  After the 2012 election, Romney’s former campaign manager and the infamous RNC post-election autopsy report each highlighted how Romney’s hardline immigration positions adopted during the primary were a key factor in driving away Latino voters.

In the 2016 general election, the Republican path to victory narrows considerably if they repeat the mistakes of Mitt Romney.  Given the increase in the number and share of Latino voters expected to vote in the 2016 general electorate, Latino Decisions estimates that the Republican nominee will need to win between 42-47% of Latinos to win the 2016 presidential popular vote.

The number of eligible and actual Latino voters is soaring

new report from Pew Research finds that, “The number of Hispanic eligible voters has grown at one of the fastest clips of any group over the past eight years and is projected to be 40% higher in 2016 than in 2008 … U.S.-citizen Hispanics who turn 18 are the primary source of new eligible voters as some 803,000 young U.S.-citizen Hispanics enter adulthood each year and become eligible to vote …The Hispanic electorate is projected to reach 27.3 million eligible voters in 2016, up from 19.5 million in 2008. Most of this growth has come from U.S.-citizen Hispanics entering adulthood. Between 2008 and 2016, a projected 6 million U.S.-citizen Hispanics will have turned 18, becoming eligible voters.”

Pew also notes that, “In 2008, a then-record 9.8 million Latino eligible voters did not vote. That number rose to 12.1 million in 2012, despite record turnout of Latino voters.  As a result, the Hispanic voter turnout rate declined from 49.9% in 2008 to 48% in 2012, reflecting slower growth in the number of Hispanic voters compared with the number of Hispanic eligible voters.”

A key question for 2016 is whether Republicans’ embrace of anti-immigrant politics will help motivate eligible Latino non-voters to register and vote.  As leading Congressional immigration reform champion, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, stated about the 2016 campaign: “The way we respond to racism is by voting and in Latino and immigrant communities, we are getting that message loud and clear.” And as Janet Murguía, the President and CEO of NCLR, wrote, “Latinos are responding against this demonization in the most American of ways: immigrants who are eligible are becoming citizens, and those who are citizens are registering to vote.”