By Alan Bean
A week ago, I asked “Can the Republicans Romance Latinos?” My conclusion was negative. Immigration reform will require strong bipartisan support and the initial leadership must come from the Republican side of the aisle. Barack Obama’s embrace of mass deportation (we deported more people in 2011 than were deported between 1907 and 1980) shows how desperate Democrats have been to flex their tough-on-immigrants muscle. Obama is unlikely to stick his head out for the Latino community so long as the Republicans are competing to see who can offend Hispanic voters the most. Only if the Republican party moves to the left of the Democrats on this single issue will the dynamics of the immigration debate shift significantly.
And that is unlikely to happen. I argued that a political party that has prospered for two generations by tapping into white racial resentment is unlikely to discard it’s trump card. How can you play to angry white men and advocate meaningful immigration reform at the same time? You can’t.
Of course there is more than one kind of racial resentment. If the Democrats have been undermined by white racial resentment, the Republicans just stumbled over Latino racial resentment. Latinos have good reason to resent both parties, but the Republicans tried to shore up white votes by intentionally demeaning Hispanic voters. It came down to choosing which brand of racial resentment would hurt you the most. Republicans decided, correctly, that they had more to lose by alienating their Tea Party base than they would gain from courting Latino votes. Obama, realizing he couldn’t out-tough the Republicans, wisely decided to toss the Latino electorate a bone.
Republicans should understand that conservative white voters won’t be voting Democrat anytime soon. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Conservative whites will vote Republican even if the party moves to the left on immigration; but a large chunk of the party faithful, perhaps a majority, will voice their displeasure. An internecine civil war will be avoided at all cost.
Barack Obama would likely do his part if the Republicans took the lead on immigration, but he is unlikely to go to the wall on this issue if he isn’t sure his party has his back.
So it comes as no surprise that Chuck Schumer of the Blue Team and Lindsay Graham of the Red Team are now associating “reform” with an even more militarized border and no real path to citizenship for undocumented residents. That kind of talk will get us nowhere.
Seth Wessler, the author of the article pasted below, is the guy I call when I have a question about immigration. He has a thorough grasp of the key issues and the courage to speak painful truth.
Until we get it through our heads that undocumented immigrants are normal men and women with a compelling interest in bettering their lives, we won’t create just policy. Even those who seem willing to grant “amnesty” insist on “sealing the borders” first. That is the approach Ronald Reagan took: “The people that are already here can become citizens, but that’s it.”
In the real world, however, people keep crossing the border no matter how many walls we build or how dangerous the passage. Moreover, in their shoes, we would do the same–if we could summon the courage, that is.
Just 48 hours after the election was called and exit polls had fully confirmed that Romney pulled fewer Latino votes than the Republican candidate in any recent election, GOP congressional leaders, tails between their legs, began promising a new push for immigration law reform. But as the once-stalled reform process lurches back into action, familiar and vexing questions are quickly emerging: What qualifies as “reform,” for whom and at what price?
The votes weren’t even fully counted when Republican leaders signaled they were ready to return to the negotiating table. On Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner said he would support changing immigration laws. “This issue has been around far too long,” he told ABC’s Diane Sawyer. And on Sunday, the promises began to take some form when Sen. Lindsay Graham, the South Carolina Republican who two years ago fled all reform efforts in protest of Obamacare, announced a reinvigorated bipartisan effort.
In a coordinated blitz, Graham and New York Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer appeared on separate morning shows. Graham said on CBS’ “Face The Nation” that he would sit down with Democrats to craft a plan for undocumented immigrants to “come out of the shadows, get biometrically identified, start paying taxes, pay a fine for the law they broke.”
Two years ago, Graham joined Schumer, who’d just taken the immigration reform reigns from Ted Kennedy, to draft a blueprint for change. President Obama said their plan “should be the basis for moving forward.” And until Graham jumped ship, it was on its way. Now, the two senators are trying to take the country back to that March 2010 moment.
But as in 2010, both senators said on Sunday their plans would be heavy on enforcement and avoid anything that sounds like amnesty. They would include tougher border enforcement; a new, tighter identification system for all workers; a limited number of visas for a select group of new immigrants and a pathway to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants if they learn English and pass a background check.
Many immigration reform advocates were not impressed.
“The paradigm has shifted and we can do better,” said Kica Matos, the immigrant rights director for the Center for Community Change, which coordinates FIRM, a national coalition of state immigrant advocacy groups. “Dusting off a plan that is years old isn’t going to cut it.”
Where to Begin?
Pollsters and election watchers say there’s no doubt that the Republicans’ rightward move on immigration helped propel the steady decline of their Latino support. The Romney campaign drew votes from an historically low proportion of Latinos, a demographic that ranks immigration among the top issues of concern. Only 27 percent of Latino voters supported Romney on Tuesday, according to exit polls, down from the 31 percent who supported John McCain in 2008 and 44 percent who voted for George W. Bush in 2004.
Graham acknowledged on Sunday that the GOP’s anti-immigrant tone “has built a wall between the Republican Party and Hispanic community.”
“This is an odd formula for a party to adopt,” he said of the GOP’s strongly anti-immigrant stance. “The fastest growing demographic in the country, and we’re losing votes every election. It’s one thing to shoot yourself in the foot, just don’t reload the gun.”
But many immigrant rights advocates say that a plan that looks like the one Schumer and Graham proposed in 2010 is too close to a loaded gun to be acceptable.
The 2010 Graham-Schumer plan was the result of protracted bipartisan wrangling that pulled many Democrats to the right. Critics say the bill overemphasized deportation and border enforcement and didn’t do enough to open pathways for new immigrants to lawfully come to the country.
Ultimately, despite all the Democrats’ concessions, the bipartisan bill still failed to become law. But in the last two years, the enforcement part of the bill came true—not through hard cross-aisle agreement, but because Obama’s Department of Homeland Security rapidly expanded enforcement operations in local jails and deployed more border patrol agents than any previous administration. The result? Record numbers of non-citizens deported.
As a result, in the opening days of a renewed conversation of about immigration reform, many advocates say they’re unlikely to fall in line with a bipartisan plan that slow down the Obama pace of deportations.
“While Republicans do their soul searching,” said Pablo Alvarado, the director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, “we’ll be pushing for solutions for all our community. The Schumer-Graham plan is unacceptable; we’re still fighting Obama’s deportations.”
Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program brought hundreds of thousands of young people, so-called DREAMers, out of the shadows. But while polls showed the administrative program gave Obama a boost, young undocumented activists say that they’re not content with a deportation deferral alone, nor with any system that deports their parents.
“By having this relief and having access to greater resources we can begin to push harder for relief for the entire community,” said Lorella Praeli, advocacy director of the group United We Dream, a coalition of young undocumented immigrants. “This fight for DREAMers in our community has never been about ourselves…. It’s been about our families.”
United We Dream plans to release its own blueprint for immigration reform soon and will be bringing their demands to whomever will listen in Washington.
Schumer said on Sunday, “The Republican Party has learned that being anti-immigrant doesn’t work for them.” But in the face of a growing Latino electorate that’s claiming the election results as its own, the same old compromises from Democrats may not be enough either.