CHICAGO — Former President George W. Bush recently said that “the reason to pass immigration reform is not to bolster” a political party but “to fix a system that’s broken. Good policy yields good politics.”
It’s too bad that loathed-by-the-left Bush said it and not Bill Clinton. The ultra-influential Clinton could probably make a difference in the lead-up to the House of Representatives’ deliberations on immigration by reminding Democrats to try to compromise on their demands for reform rather than focusing on celebrating a Republican defeat they hope will doom the whole GOP.
Both parties need to stop calculating what a win or loss will mean to their prospects for the 2014 midterms and the 2016 presidential election. They’d better start figuring out how to not let immigration become the next big item on a long list of legislative failures that convince Americans their government is incapable of getting anything done.
But this would require the kind of down-to-earth thinking that neither side appears prepared to engage in. And while President Obama has spent months insisting no one will get all they want, it’s hard to imagine either side compromising much.
From the beginning, everyone involved has known that one of the top points of contention in the House would be the path to citizenship — primarily because conservative Republicans don’t want it and secondarily because of the ridiculous assumptions made about citizenship and future Latino voting potential.
Conventional wisdom posits that the GOP needs to pass a reform that includes citizenship in order to stand even a slim chance of attracting future Hispanic voters. And the Democrats want the same so they can cash in on perceived automatic support for their efforts from grateful Latino voters.
Never mind that none of those assertions can actually be counted on. Worse, they completely ignore public opinion when it comes to the question of whether a comprehensive reform should be limited to legal residency or go so far as to offer citizenship.
In March and May, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center for the People and the Press surveyed adults from various demographic groups about how to handle immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. Only 60 percent of the respondents who believed these immigrants should be allowed to stay favored offering citizenship, while 34 percent preferred just permanent residency.
This is not significantly far apart from the Hispanic-only response — 59 percent of those who want immigrants to stay legally preferred a path to citizenship while 40 percent would stop at permanent residency.
But the loudest of the pro-immigration pundits who wield the Hispanic vote as a weapon (despite the fact that Hispanics vote in far lower numbers than other racial/ethnic groups) would have everyone believe that few Latinos — much less half of a representative sample — would ever consider a legalization-only compromise. And they’d surely never admit that almost 10 percent of Hispanics in this survey said such immigrants should not be allowed to stay legally.
In fact, the voting behavior of Latinos is such a muddle that Republicans are starting to wonder if these low-turnout voters are even worth fighting for. Over the last few weeks there have been multiple news stories about how House Republicans, in their safe, predominantly white districts, may not even need Hispanic support to keep their majority power intact.
What a shame that stories and data about the diversity of Hispanic political attitudes don’t get the same play. A recent feature on Pacific Standard magazine’s website titled “Hey GOP: Mexican Immigrants Aren’t Necessarily Democrats” said it best: “New research suggests Mexican immigrants in the U.S. are all over the political spectrum — and those on the right are more likely to vote.”
Many other resources about the true potential of the “Hispanic vote” are available for anyone who cares to learn about Hispanics’ diverse and evolving political views.
Unfortunately, few do. That’s why this latest attempt at immigration reform is doomed to fail on the basis of misbeliefs about how important citizenship is to Hispanics and how they might react at the polls to GOP efforts to deny it to 11 million unauthorized immigrants.
And what about the potential backlash from Latinos smart enough to blame those who were unwilling to compromise on citizenship? Someone hurry up and survey the Hispanics who’ll be hoppin’ mad if millions of immigrants are left hanging out to dry once again while Democrats rejoice in the supposed demise of the Republican Party.
Esther J. Cepeda is a nationally syndicated columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.