Sunday, November 11, 2012

Republicans say they want immigration reform — but is that all it will take to get in good stead with Latinos?

Posted By on Sun, Nov 11, 2012 at 12:39 PM

Lindsey Graham
  • Lindsey Graham
The changing demographics of the country have been talked about incessantly in the aftermath of the presidential election last week, and with good reason. Polls taken throughout the year showed that Mitt Romney was getting blown out by President Obama when it came to the growing Latino vote, yet the GOP presidential nominee never modulated his harsh tone on illegal immigration, even months after he secured the Republican nomination and therefore could begin to move toward the center.

Romney got his clock cleaned with the Latino vote on Tuesday, losing by a 71-29 percent margin to President Obama.

Now hard-line Republicans in what commentator David Frum calls the GOP "Media Entertainment Complex" — pundits like radio and cable news talk-show host Sean Hannity — say they've seen the light on comprehensive immigration reform.

A bill in the Senate could soon be introduced, co-sponsored by South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham and New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer.

On NBC's Meet The Press, Schumer said their joint plan would address four issues: 1) close the border, 2) insure there is a "nonforgeable" document with which employers can verify the legal status of a worker, 3) increase legal immigration for work purposes, and 4) create a path to legal citizenship for undocumented people that's fair.

On CBS' Face The Nation on Sunday, Lindsey Graham spoke specifically about what that path to citizenship would look like for the estimated 12 million undocumented people in the country: "Come out of the shadows, get biometrically identified, start paying taxes, pay a fine for the law they broke. They can't stay unless they learn our language and they have to get in the back of the line before they become citizens....I think that's the answer."

But Graham added the all-too-familiar caveat among Republicans that nothing can or should be done on this until "we secure the border," though a year-old report from the left-leaning Center for American Progress said that border crossings from Mexico have been falling for years and border crimes are less common than national average.

Graham however did slam the rhetoric that was espoused in the 2011-2012 GOP presidential campaign about illegal immigration, such as Mitt Romney's suggestion of "self-deportation."

"Sixty-five percent of the people in the exit poll in this election supported a pathway to citizenship. Here's what I think we should with respect to the 12 million (people), " Graham said. "Fix it in a way that we don't have a third wave of illegal immigration 20 years from now." He added, "We have nobody to blame but ourselves when it comes to losing Hispanics, but we can get them back with some effort on our part.

Ruy Teixeira predicted that demographics would favor Democrats in the future when he co-wrote The Emerging Democratic Majority in 2002. In an article in Sunday's New York Daily News, Teixeira says Republicans are fooling themselves if they think a fix on immigration will bring them running into the arms of the GOP. He says the notion that Latinos are naturally socially conservative isn't backed up by polling:

It is true that Hispanics are relatively conservative on the specific issue of abortion. But in a 2009 survey for the Center for American Progress, Hispanics actually had the highest average score of all racial groups on a 10-item progressive cultural index.

And on the hot-button issue of gay marriage, surveys have repeatedly shown that Hispanics are no more conservative on this matter than whites are. Indeed, in a 2012 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, more Latinos (55%) said they supported marriage equality than did whites (48%).

Even more damaging to the theory, Hispanics are actually much less likely than whites to vote on the basis of cultural issues. Thus, even where they are relatively conservative, as, for example, on abortion, they are not likely to align their vote with their view on that issue.

Pre-election polls from Latino Decisions bear out this assessment. They asked Hispanic registered voters whether “politics is more about economic issues such as jobs, taxes, gas prices and the minimum wage; or politics is more about moral issues such as abortion, family values, and same-sex marriage.”

Just 14% said politics was more about moral values, compared to 75% who thought politics was more about economic issues.

Ross Douthat in Sunday's New York Times says the same thing.

First, Hispanics are not single-issue voters: they can be alienated by nativism, but they can’t just be won by the promise of green cards and open borders. (After Reagan signed an amnesty bill in 1986, the Republican share of the Hispanic vote fell in the next presidential election.) Latino voters are not, as conservative strategists often claim, “natural” Republican voters — notwithstanding their (moderate) social conservatism, they tend to lean leftward on economic issues, and to see government more as an ally than a foe. They can be wooed, gradually, if Republicans address their aspirations and anxieties, but they aren’t going to be claimed in one legislative pander.

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