I’ve been trying to figure something out. How does immigration reform help Republicans? I mean, I understand if Republicans actually embraced it. They could changed their tune and say, “Of course we are for immigration reform. Immigration has made America great. People who risk death to come to America for economic opportunity are exactly the kind of people we want!” But they aren’t doing that. Even the big Republican advocates approach immigration reform as something they do reluctantly. “Okay, we’ll let the evil brown skinned people already here stay—but no more!” Then, as Greg Sargent reported this morning, Republicans in the Gang of Eight are trying to make the immigration “compromise” less “you can stay” and more “protect the border.”
The argument for Republicans embracing immigration reform is that it acts as a kind of political poison, keeping Latino voters focused on this one bad aspect of the Republican Party. But as I was arguing last year after the election, Republicans have much bigger problems with Latinos than the immigration issue. As long as Latinos are poorer than other groups, they will continue to vote for the Democrats in large numbers.
This isn’t all about political tactics. I think it is a bit of a stretch to say that Democrats want immigration reform because it will broaden their base of support starting in about 15 years. Similarly, I don’t think that Republicans are against reform because it might hurt them starting in about 15 years. I know some commentators have argued this, but politicians just don’t plan that far ahead. From a tactical standpoint, it is just about constituencies. Latinos are a major Democratic constituency. They are not a major Republican constituency. In fact, a major Republican constituency hates immigration reform.
A better argument in favor of the Republicans supporting reform is not that they want to win the Latino vote; it is just that they want to improve it from the pathetic 27% that Romney received. They remember the halcyon days when Bush won 43%. But I still don’t see how this helps them. If immigration reform passes, those Latinos who really care about the issue will see it as something that the Democrats gave them. Immigration reform could make Latinos even less likely to vote Republican.
In the long run, Latinos will stop being a minority group. They will just be like the Italians or the Irish. And in that case, they will vote as their interests dictate. But even if our immigration laws never get reformed and Latinos still strongly associate with the undocumented community, they will not blame Republicans of that time for the inaction of Republicans now. They will judge the Republicans on the positions that they hold at that later time. So again, I ask: if Republicans are unwilling to appeal to the Latino community in any other way, why should they try to appeal in this one way? Especially when their support is at best grudging and at worse nonexistent.