What’s next for the GOP and immigration?
By Susan Carroll
The Houston Chronicle | November 11,2012
As pundits pick apart Tuesday’s election results, many have identified an unlikely victor, one that never made the ballot: comprehensive immigration reform.
Some speculated the GOP’s hard-line stance on immigration, coupled with the burgeoning Latino electorate, cost Republican candidate Mitt Romney the election in crucial swing states.
Latinos voted for President Barack Obama over Romney 71 percent to 27 percent, and the decisive victory for Democrats also carried over to Senate races, exit polls showed.
Even before the election results were finalized, former presidential adviser David Gergen had declared immigration reform a winner: “The Democrats want it, and the Republicans now need it.”
Immigrant advocates called the election results a game changer, saying they represented a clear mandate for immigration reform.
But some opponents of reform quickly took to Twitter to warn the GOP not to blame its failings Tuesday on its hard-line stance on immigration, suggesting Romney lacked the conservative credentials to win.
A “hard turnaround” on immigration reform may be problematic for the GOP, some sociologists predicted, even if the party leadership notes the power of the Latino electorate. The immigration issue has proved deeply divisive among Republicans, many of whom remain staunchly opposed to granting legal status to millions of illegal immigrants in the U.S.
“There may be a few (Republicans) out there who will change their minds,” said Nestor Rodriguez, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin. “But look at the House. The Republicans are still in control of the House.
“I think there’s been a wake-up call, but they might hit the snooze button,” he added.
Latino voters’ goal
According to a poll on the eve of the election by impreMedia-Latino Decisions, immigration was a crucial issue for helping Latino voters choose between the two parties.
An analysis of exit polls by the Pew Hispanic Center found that Latinos made up 10 percent of the electorate.
Obama’s national share of the Hispanic vote was the highest netted by a Democratic candidate since 1996, when President Bill Clinton won 72 percent of the Hispanic vote, according to Pew researchers.
Some Republican strategists and leaders have long warned of the perils of ignoring or worse - alienating - the Latino vote. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who had a prominent role in the Republican convention, cautioned before the election that the GOP can’t be “simply the anti-illegal immigration party.”
He urged a compromise that falls between granting “amnesty” to the estimated 11.5 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. and deporting them.
Romney’s move to the right on immigration during a bruising primary may have cost him dearly, some analysts suggested.
At one point on the campaign trail, Romney said he would veto the DREAM Act, which would offer a path toward legal status to undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Romney also said he supported “self-deportation” for illegal immigrants, essentially making their lives in the U.S. so difficult that they opt to return to their home countries.
Republican strategist Ana Navarro tweeted: “Mitt Romney self-deported himself from the White House.”
After failing to deliver on comprehensive immigration reform in his first term, Obama weathered vocal criticism from many Latinos, who also seized on his administration’s record-setting deportation numbers.
Obama blamed Republicans for stonewalling on immigration reform, and his administration enacted a series of policy changes starting in 2011 that have spared from deportation thousands of illegal immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for years without committing crimes.
In June, Obama announced a new program that buoyed his support among Latinos, offering illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children a chance to apply for a temporary reprieve from deportation and work permits.
An Obama priority
In his victory speech, Obama singled out immigration reform as one of four urgent goals. In the coming months, he likely will face mounting pressure to deliver.
Eliseo Medina, a Service Employees International Union leader and vocal Obama supporter, said he has a message for the president and the new Congress: “We expect passage of comprehensive immigration reform next year.”
“Those who act on behalf of the Latino community will be rewarded,” Medina said, “and those who stand in the way will suffer the consequences at the ballot boxes in 2014.”