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Sunday, February 2, 2014

The GOP: Between a rock and a hard border on immigration reform

Will immigration reform happen?

Demographics spell the end of the Republican Party. No less a conservative light than Lindsey Graham (R-SC) admitted this, telling The Washington Post in its August 29, 2012 article, “The demographics race we’re losing badly. We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” Post-election soul searching by the GOP after November 2012 produced acknowledgement that the party needs to appeal to a diverse population, including Hispanic voters.

November 2014 mid-term elections offer the first real test of any new branding efforts, and House Speaker John Boehner has begun floating trial balloons to see which immigration reform ideas appeal to a demographic slice that brings new voters into the GOP without distancing its aging, diminishing base.

Boehner is launching his balloons in a field of barbed wire, since GOP-sponsored immigration reform must simultaneously assure Hispanic voters that the Republican Party has evolved while also convincing the conservative core that the borders will not fall.

Working together? Are they even trying?

Parts of the “Gang of Eight” immigration reform will reappear, piecemeal, in other trial balloons: paths to citizenship (once disparagingly called “amnesty” by the very House members now proposing them), work visa options and employment verification systems.

The Party of Lincoln has had a history of missteps in wooing Hispanics, not least because it assumes Mexican immigrants—by far the largest segment of Hispanic voters—are conservative in politics because they are seemingly conservative in other areas. Says Dr. Stephen Steinlight of the Center for Immigration Studies, “The premise and stereotype are equally false. There’s no correlation between ‘strong family values’ and conservatism.”

Conservative groups have opposed moves by politicians to “evolve” on immigration issues. Rep. Ted Poe (Texas), former immigration hardliner, offered a timid suggestion of reform and immediately came under attack by Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC). The momentum of reform depends on who politicians listen to: the majority of Americans and many within the Republican Party who see urgency in instituting immigration reform, or knee-jerk conservative organizations who oppose any acknowledgement that the country’s population is changing.

Boehner's Republican-controlled House has done nothing to advance the Senate’s broad immigration reform of June, 2013. Others in his caucus are sensing the need for change and have begun readying bills that offer the same amnesty the GOP decried just last year. Democrats can sit back while watching Republicans scramble to say they are working on reform. 

Looking ahead to 2016 for the GOP

Pretenses of dealing with immigration may carry Republicans through this fall’s elections, but, as Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn says, "We can win in 2014 without resolving it. We can't win in 2016 without resolving it.”

The GOP must provide substantial ideas, either through a series of smaller bills or by advancing the already extant Senate reform, to win Hispanics and widen its base.

For immigration reform supporters, any sign that the GOP is willing to take on the issue—whether for the Party’s survival or for nobler reasons— is welcome progress. Expect to see increased work on immigration reform as a result of party politics and demographic reality. 

About the author: Mark Coleman is a writer and editor to blog at Dinlaw.com, an Immigration Law Firm out of Chicago, IL