Republicans and Immigration Reform in 2013
“For the first time in many years, Republicans and Democrats seem to ready to tackle this problem together” said President Obama in Nevada. He’s correct, however, this isn’t because of an age of enlightenment where both Democrats and Republicans have finally realized they need to work together: Republicans were epically spanked in their last election by Latino and Asian voters, two communities intimately linked to immigration, and are now trying to give themselves a legitimate chance at taking the White House in 2016. Without making serious concessions to those groups they insulted, in this new era of coalition politics that defeated Mitt Romney’s nearly all-white, Mad Men vote, they know they don’t have a chance in national elections.
To say that Romney was beaten amongst non-white voters would be an understatement: Obama took 93 percent of the black vote, 71 percent of the Latino vote and 73 percent of the Asian vote, three communities that will only grow in voters in time. This is the sort of ugly, teeth-knocking beating that would make a professional boxer reconsider his career path, and left Romney unable to get back into politics; a punch-drunk boxer they may let be a greeter in a casino and an announcer occasionally.
Sure, Romney would no longer be particularly politically significant anyway as the one-term Governor of Massachusetts once upon a time and may have been done anyway, however, that was a career-ender because he doubled-down on rich white guys/Montgomery Burns and now can never appeal to minorities again.
Republicans are coming off of an election in which rhetoric and policy on immigration status blended even more heavily with race than usual. Questions of ethnicity and culture took the forefront in many communities where policies like SB 1070 were discussed, leading to charges of “Juan Crow”: the fact that a diehard Cuban Republican could have been stopped in Arizona by Joe Arpaio’s armed immigration posse and then held on suspicion of being undocumented because he was brown and spoke with a Spanish accent made it undeniable that ethnicity was a large, poorly-hidden aspect of the election rhetoric and policy.
Toward the end of the cycle, Romney tried to backpedal, but the damage was extensive and his and his party’s jump toward the center was absurd: when Obama, frustrated with Congress’ lack of action, offered Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (essentially a temporary executive DREAM Act), congressional Republicans countered with the “Prohibiting Back-Door Amnesty” bill; when Romney spoke on immigration near the end of the election cycle, all the backpedaling in the world couldn’t save him from his quotes on “self-deportation”; making SB 1070 a model for the nation and vetoing the DREAM Act; the 2010 Republican filibuster of the DREAM Act still fresh in the mind of undocumented immigrants, who then followed Romney city to city to protest across the country. These are just a few events in an extensive highlight reel of Republicans being unreasonable on immigration that has been put together several dozen times on The Daily Show, Youtube and other outlets.
This is not, however, a new problem: the cycle before, Republican nominee John McCain said that he would vote against his own immigration proposal that included a pathway toward citizenship because “we know what the situation is today.” The “situation” was that he needed more right-wingers to vote for him.
The Latino vote has gotten larger every year, while the Republicans’ share of it has shrunk every cycle since Bush’s 44 percent. Now the GOP must either wrangle it’s more anti-immigrant forces who are worried about being “primaried” (kicked out by a more conservative candidate in their primary), or admit that they won’t be competitive on the national stage without rigging the vote more aggressively than they did with 6 hour long lines in Ohio next time.
Putting forward their golden child of immigration, Marco Rubio, as one of the 8 Senators who are proposing immigration reform is smart: he’s Latino and, while he’s been against the DREAM Act, his rhetoric has been sympathetic enough that he could flip that position without too much damage should he choose. What’s better, even though he and his family has status, I’d bet money that he’s personally known many people (some even in his own Cuban community despite their special immigration status) who have done everything right but have been in immigration limbo for 20 years: it’s just part of the experience the children of immigrants have. Rubio is still new to the Senate, however, and has yet to stake out many concrete positions.
Today, some Republicans are moving in the most pathetic baby steps imaginable toward admitting undocumented immigrants even have that same human dignity that led Jefferson to write that all men are created equal. Resurgent Republic, a conservative polling organization, put out a memo that accurately places where a very large portion of Republicans are on the debate on immigration today.
Resurgent Republic’s memo discussed how Republicans should no longer use terms like “anchor babies,” “illegal aliens” and “electrified fence,” two terms that have long been deeply offensive and considered dehumanizing by the Latino community, and one very crazy idea from actual frontrunner Herman Cain. Between this and the charges of “Juan Crow,” the GOP seems like today’s version of an 1870’s politician struggling not to drop the “N word” the day after his black constituency just gained the right to vote.
Sometimes, it’s very hard to imagine them following through with anything reasonable. It’s not, however, particularly difficult to see the toll that their immigration stance has taken on the Republican Party.