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Memo: Immigration State of Play

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To: Interested Parties
From: America’s Voice
Re: Immigration State of Play
Date: September 23, 2013

After years of closed-door meetings, Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Sam Johnson (R-TX), and John Carter (R-TX) announced the hiatus of their bipartisan working group on immigration last week.  Johnson and Carter blamed the dissolution of their group on President Obama, but what’s really happening is that House Republicans are pursuing a Republican-first strategy on every issue, including immigration.

What House Republicans will soon realize, however, is that they can’t pass game-changing immigration reform alone, and the failure to do so will haunt them in future elections.  They can either work with Democrats and share in the credit of passing broad reform, or refuse to work with Democrats and shoulder the blame.

This memo will address three key areas:

  • Seeing through House Republicans’ Excuses
  • The Political Costs of Inaction – Harm in 2014 & Disaster in 2016 for the GOP 
  • The Human Costs of Inaction – Why the Immigration Movement Won’t Stop Fighting Until We Pass Reform

In the 88 days since the Senate passed its bill, up to 100,000 immigrants who may have benefited from the law have instead been deported.  During that same time period, over 331,300 new U.S. citizens with ties to the immigration debate (Latinos, Asians, and naturalized citizens) have become eligible to vote.  To them this is not just a policy issue, it’s personal.  They are backed by a broad, diverse, powerful, and relentless movement that believes all families should be united.

This is why we are confident that broad immigration reform will pass the House: the cost of inaction for the GOP is too high, the politics of the issue for the GOP are too clear, and our movement won’t take no for an answer.


Seeing through House Republicans’ Excuses

House Republican leadership, led by Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor and Majority Whip McCarthy, will either find a way to get reform done this year or find themselves blamed for blocking it.

Taking a vote on immigration reform this year is not a question of a tight calendar or a difficult process; it’s a question of political will.  Using debates over Syria and fiscal issues as an excuse for inaction this year is a weak excuse; Congress should be able to tackle more than two issues in four months. And, Congress can find the time to do it, even if that means expanding the already paltry calendar.

Some Influential House Republicans are pushing the storyline that immigration reform is being crowded off the congressional calendar. It’s not hard to see through the excuses.  As The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent noted, “If immigration reform dies, it’s only because the House GOP leadership decided to kill it.  That’s just all there is to it.”

In a blistering column, the most influential voice in Spanish media – Univisión’s Jorge Ramos – makes it clear that he and other Spanish-language media leaders are going to continue to shine their spotlight on Congress until the House schedules a vote on a path to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans this year.  As Ramos wrote in La Opinión: “Delaying the debate over immigration reform because of the conflict in Syria is simply an unacceptable excuse.  Truly important things should not be delayed.  Syria and immigration can, and should, both be discussed and resolved before the year ends.  At the end of the day, this is Congress’ job.”

By now, it’s clear that the “Hastert Rule,” under which the House GOP will only consider bills that are supported by a majority of its caucus, should be renamed the “Hastert Excuse.” Speaker Boehner has disregarded this self-imposed gimmick four times already in 2013.  As ThinkProgress recently tallied, “first on a bill to avert the Fiscal Cliff, second to pass aid for those affected by Superstorm Sandy, third on a bill to allow federal acquisition of historic sites, and finally, to pass the Violence Against Women Act.  Even the House leadership aide who coined the term, John Feehery, told The Atlantic’s Molly Ball that Speaker Boehner “ought to ditch” it.  As Ball characterized of their conversation: “Given the current ‘ungovernable’ state of the House GOP caucus, he told me, Boehner must balance the risk to his own standing with the ‘larger reputational risk’ to the Republican Party.”  When Boehner agreed to hold a vote on use of military force against Syria, the Hastert excuse was never raised.

The stubborn fact is that right now, today, a bipartisan majority exists in the House of Representatives to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship.  Hiding behind the Hastert Excuse will not absolve the GOP should it be invoked to kill immigration reform. And, while the House dithers, immigrants who would be eligible for citizenship instead face deportation.

House GOP leaders need to stop relying on procedural and calendar excuses, blow past the delay and derail approach. They’ve got to move beyond the crisis mindset the defines the budget and debt debate to rationality on immigration reform. Instead, they need to empower serious Republicans to work with serious Democrats to get this done.

We’re watching. The Latino Community is watching. Spanish Language media is watching.


The Political Costs of Inaction – Harm in 2014 & Disaster in 2016 for the GOP

The Republican Party has a Latino problem that will only be cured if House passes immigration reform legislation with a path to citizenship.

If the House GOP blocks reform, the political consequences will be severe: the GOP will lose the White House in 2016 and perhaps for a generation; in 2014, they will lose seats in the House, and eventually their majority. This has played out in California for decades since Governor Pete Wilson led the effort to pass the anti-immigrant Proposition 187. At a national level, the pro-immigration movement has continued to expand and become more sophisticated since 2006 when House Republicans passed harsh anti-immigrant legislation.

A quick refresher: In 2010, the unexpected victories of pro-immigrant candidates like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) in races against hardline anti-immigrant opponents, helped stop the “Republican wave” at the Rockies and kept the U.S. Senate in Democratic hands. In 2012, President Obama secured over 70% of the Latino vote, running against a GOP nominee who supported self-deportation.

In 2013, there are governors’ races in Virginia and New jersey. In New Jersey, Republican Chris Christie, running for reelection, is considered the solid frontrunner. He has a long history of support for immigrants and reform.

Virginia is another story. The open seat is being contested by Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli. In that battleground state, immigration is a key issue.  Cuccinelli has taken a hard-line anti-immigrant stance while McAuliffe has become a supporter of reform. Now, the Washington Post reports that Cuccinelli is trying to soften his image:

Cuccinelli, Virginia’s attorney general, championed hard-line immigration policies while rising through the state ranks — but he has awkwardly sought to play down his record in hopes of not alienating Hispanics and Asians who represent a small but growing part of Virginia’s electorate.

Republican leaders have conceded that presidential nominee Mitt Romney damaged his candidacy last fall bypromoting “self-deportation,” and some have pushed the party to embrace more liberal policies to woo Hispanics and move the issue off the agenda in future elections.

Yes, even Virginia.

A recent report by Rob Paral of the Immigration Policy Center found that, “Young Asians and Latinos will have a major impact on the composition of newly eligible voters in upcoming elections,” noting that “about 1.8 million U.S. citizen Asians and Latinos become eligible to vote in each two-year election cycle.  Immigrants who become U.S. citizens through naturalization will also be a significant contributor to the evolving electorate.  Each election cycle, about 1.4 million of these new citizens become eligible to vote nationally. Together, these groups will constitute 34 percent of all newly eligible voters in the 2014 elections.”

Ron Brownstein’s recent cover story for National Journal, “Bad Bet: Why Republicans Can’t Win With Whites Alone” is a must-read, presenting a compelling case that the Republican Party must diversify its appeal to the new American electorate to win future national elections.  Ron Brownstein notes, “Weighing all these factors, most political professionals in both parties who have expressed an opinion are somewhere between dubious and scornful of the notion that Republicans can rely almost entirely on further gains with whites to recapture the presidency without meaningfully improving among minorities.”

As the Republican pollster Whit Ayres told Brownstein, the “whites-first argument” is “not getting much penetration among people who are serious about winning presidential elections.  It is getting traction among people who are trying to justify voting against immigration reform or making any of the other changes that are necessary to be nationally competitive in the 21st century.”  Pollster and demographics expert Ruy Teixeira also has demolished the myth that the Republican Party can appeal only to white voters.  Among Teixeira’s five reasons: “Every year, the pool of white voters shrinks. The most important reason why the GOP’s desperate quest to squeeze ever more voters out of the white population is doomed to fail is that every year there are fewer of them.”

Republicans should be worried. Currently, at least 26 GOP House members publicly support a path to citizenship. Along with another 40+ GOP Representatives who need it – also must put pressure on their leadership to act. When it comes to Latino voters and immigration reform, talk is cheap and actions matter. Besides the GOP seats that become vulnerable, supporting immigration bolsters Democrats who might otherwise be at risk. It’s easy to imagine all the campaign ads in Latino-heavy target districts if the House fails to take up broad immigration reform.

While some pundits believe the gerrymandered districts will protect Republicans in 2014, there another election coming up. And, 2016 looms large.

If the House Republicans block immigration reform, the party will be further branded as anti-immigrant and anti-Latino.  It will hurt them with a wide swath of the “coalition of the ascendant” – Latinos, Asians, other immigrants, young people, women, college-educated professionals and independents who abhor extremism.  It means they will be unable to win the White House in 2016 and beyond.

There is already enormous pressure on the President to use his executive authority again. In August, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) warned his party about that prospect. If House Republicans fail to pass real reform, the pressure on the President will only increase. He has broad legal authority to act. If that happens, Republicans will have lost their opportunity to redeem themselves with the immigrant community. The only immigration vote the full House has taken was on an amendment offered by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) to defund the DACA program. On June 5, it passed by a 224 – 201 margin.  No doubt, any action by the President will be met with that kind of resistance from House Republicans. Their only way out is to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship and get it signed into law.

Without a significantly improved performance among Latino voters, the Republican Party’s future as a nationally competitive political party is in doubt.  Many top Republican strategists, including Karl Rove, understand that. And while the Latino electorate’s disconnect from the current Republican Party runs deeper than immigration alone, it will be impossible for the GOP to get a hearing on its other issues unless and until they work to pass real immigration reform.

The trendline is heading in our direction – and fast.  In 2004, President Bush received approximately 40% of the Latino vote nationwide in his campaign against Democratic nominee John Kerry.  That’s the percentage of Latino voters that a Republican must secure in order to win. Just eight years later, Republican nominee Mitt Romney received only 23% Latino support of a much larger Latino electorate in his race against President Obama.

The Republicans could also heed the lesson of California. Latino Decisions analyzed voting trends in California, asking and answering a critical question: “How did California go from a Republican stronghold to a Democratic lock?  The answer is clear – anti-immigrant policy and a frustrated and mobilized Latino vote.”  As LD’s Matt Barreto noted, “Republicans have permanently written off 55 electoral college votes – or approximately 20% of the amount needed to reach 270.”

This also brings us to the question: What Are They Afraid Of? Anti-Immigrant Opposition is a Paper Tiger

In 2012, Mitt Romney based his immigration strategy on advice from leaders of the anti-immigrant movement, including Kris Kobach. Look where that got him. Besides bad political advice, Kobach has been on a string of losing court cases on immigration, too.  President Obama’s reelection was aided greatly by his action to protect DREAMers from deportation. Romney opposed it and Kobach sued to stop it.

But, the anti-immigrant side has leaders that give bad advice, there is no movement.  The August recess displayed the power of the growing immigration reform movement. It also demonstrated that there is no real opposition to reform. The iconic photo of Rep. Steve King standing alone at a major rally in Richmond tells the  non-story of the opposition.

The opponents of immigration reform are extreme and don’t speak for majority of Americans.


The Human Costs of Inaction Why the Immigration Movement Won’t Stop Fighting Until We Pass Reform

Just about everyone agrees the status quo is terrible and that the broken system must be fixed. Inaction by the Republican House leadership is a vote for the status quo, which in turn exacts a terrible human cost for immigrants every day. And, the status quo inflicts pain on thousands of families every day.

Every day they delay is another day that families are ripped apart, workers are exploited, migrants die in the desert and 1,100 people are deported.  Most of those being deported today would qualify for legal status under the provisions of the Senate bill, which passed in June. If the House would pass similar legislation – and that could have been done months ago – those deportations could end.

In addition, President Obama should order DHS to stop deporting people who qualify for legal status under pending legislation.

It’s critical for anyone covering the issue to understand the importance of the immigration issue to Latino voters.  It is the top issue of concern to that community because it is personal. In March, Latino Decisions explained the personal connections Latino voters have to immigration reform:

Latino Decisions released new polling data today highlighting why immigration reform has become the number one political issue for Latino voters, and the answer is close personal connections between Latino voters and Latino undocumented immigrants.  The poll finds that 58% of Latino registered voters now cite immigration reform as the top priority for the Congress and President, up from 35% in November 2012.  One reason is that 63% of Latino voters say they personally know someone who is an undocumented immigrant, either a member of their family or a close personal friend.  Further, 39% of Latino voters say they personally know someone, or a family who has faced deportation or detention for immigration reasons, and increase of 14 points over 2011, when 25% of Latino voters said they personally knew someone who had faced deportation or detention.

Over the past several months, Spanish language media has given extensive coverage of the immigration debate. The Latino community is well versed on the issue – because of the consequences to so many of their family and friends. This isn’t just another political issue. It’s their lives.

With immigration, policy, politics and personal are interrelated.

For more on the politics of immigration reform for the GOP, see America’s Voice’s new web site: http://thecostofinaction.com/