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Why Immigration Reform CAN Become Law This Year

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As immigration reform advocates, we’re used to the pessimism of “conventional wisdom” and we’re used to conventional wisdom being wrong.  Rahm Emanuel once said that immigration reform was the “third rail of American politics,” yet the illegal immigration wedge strategy was a bust in every recent election.  Tom Tancredo made it his pet issue, left Congress to run for President and Governor, and failed at both.  After drafting the state’s “show me your papers” anti-immigration law, Arizona State senator Russell Pearce was recalled from office and lost again in his comeback bid.  Now he runs a website.

But perhaps the most cataclysmic example of conventional wisdom being wrong resides with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.  After years of being told it wasn’t possible, DREAMers and their allies finally achieved this momentous victory in June 2012, when President Obama decided to extend these talented young people a work permit and a measure of stability until Congress acts.  The political class said it wasn’t going to happen, but the DREAMers defied conventional wisdom and proved everyone wrong.

In 2013, broad, bipartisan immigration reform with a path to citizenship cleared the Senate with an historic 68-32 vote.  The only thing standing between this and a Rose Garden signing ceremony are House Republican leaders, who have a decision to make.  Do they follow the path taken in the Senate and allow a bipartisan majority to speak, or let the extremists in their caucus paralyze them and imperil their own political futures in the process?

Here are just a few reasons why we believe that “conventional wisdom” on immigration will prove to be wrong once again this year:

  • Republicans NEED to pass immigration reform for the future of their party—in 2014 and beyond.  With a series of polls showing majority support in favor of reform and with an ever-growing pro-immigration movement ready to deliver, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and his Republican caucus have reason to be concerned about what will happen if reform fails.  A series of Latino Decisions tracking polls continue to show that immigration reform is a top priority issue for Latino voters (see Latino Decisions polls from March and June of this year).  And as their latest analysis shows, immigration will impact at least 14 Republican incumbents in the 2014 election cycle and more in 2016 as the Latino voting population continues to grow.  But it’s not just Latino Voters that House Republicans should be concerned about. New Public Policy Polling (PPP) polling in seven swing congressional districts shows broad popular support for immigration reform with a path to citizenship, even among Republican and Independent voters. It’s clear that what Republicans do in 2013 will influence electoral outcomes in 2014, and set the stage for 2016 and beyond.  As Americans for Tax Reform Founder Grover Norquist said, “The business communities want it.  The communities of faith want it.  The political consultant class, which tells you what the Republican Party needs, wants it.  Even if you can get re-elected in your monochromatic House district, you don’t get to govern” if immigration blocks a path to the White House.
  • There is already a majority in the House of Representatives that supports reform.  As various target lists show, reform supporters in the House far outnumber opponents.  According to the Huffington Post’s target list, there are 192 members who are a “likely yes” as compared to 104 who are a “likely no.”  And according to a list published by Greg Sargent of the Washington Post, the votes of nearly 100 Republicans could be in play.  It would only take a handful from that list to make 218 in the House and history for the GOP.
  • Republican voters support the same policy approach as Latinos.  Despite the fears that a “yes” vote in favor of reform will alienate the Republican base, a range of polling demonstrates that a majority of Republican voters – even those who show up in the primaries – support comprehensive immigration reform.  New polling of Republican primary voters, released by Americans for a Conservative Direction and conducted by Basswood Research, finds, per Huffington Post, “Most of the voters surveyed in this poll — 70 percent — said they are open to a bill that bolsters border security resources, requires employers to check on potential hires’ legal status and allows undocumented immigrants eventually to gain citizenship. If border security is coupled with legalization, 65 percent of Republican voters said they would support a path to citizenship, according to the poll.”
  • The GOP can improve their prospects with Latino voters, but first they have to deliver on immigration reform. The Republican Party has a real opportunity to improve their changes with Latino and the general public if they embrace reform.  As a  June Latino Decisions poll showed, immigration is a motivating issue for Latino voters, 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.  The same poll showed that 52% said they would be more favorable to the Republican Party if they pass immigration reform, even if they disagree on other issues.  This includes 55% of prior GOP voters, 47% of Democrats and 60% of Independents.  Additionally, as yesterday’s PPP poll showed, per Politico, “Voters also said they were less likely to support Republican candidates in general next year if the GOP House members block the current immigration reform proposal.”  The Republican leadership has a clear choice to make: pass reform and share credit for doing so or keep the dysfunctional status quo and further tarnish it’s already damaged brand with the fastest growing groups of voters in America.