Immigration reform was supposed to entice Latinos into the Republican fold, a needed change after overwhelming minority support helped President Obama crush challenger Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.
Top GOP strategists such as Karl Rove took up the call, as did Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus in a post-election autopsy released in March. Possible presidential contenders such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jeb Bush hitched their political fortunes to an immigration overhaul.
But that outstretched hand increasingly looks like a clenched fist to many Hispanics.
Senate Republicans are undermining themselves by trying to push tough amendments onto the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration reform plan to scuttle efforts to create a decade-long pathway to citizenship for as many as 11 million illegal immigrants.
“It’s somewhat of a shock to see the Republicans allowing themselves to be painted as anti-immigrant through some of these actions,” said Matt Barreto, co-founder of the research and policy firm Latino Decisions. “And the reason it’s a shock is that a huge part of their loss in 2012 was because they did so poorly with Latinos and because of the positions taken during the primary by Gov. Romney.”
“Our data have revealed very clearly that through Rubio or Jeb Bush or [John] McCain and others they have the ability to rehabilitate their image and to increase their numbers – it’s absolutely a possibility,” he added. “But they’re at this crossroads, and this is the absolute worst time for them to be running afoul of Latino voters.”
THE POLITICS OF INCLUSION
“The Republicans need to solve a political problem with Latinos – and failure to do so just won’t cut it,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, a pro-reform group supporting the “Gang of Eight” proposal. “They won’t get credit for an effort that falls short and they will get blamed if the bill holds citizenship hostage to unreasonable enforcement demands.”
As the details of the bill are getting debated this week on the Senate floor, Republicans are struggling to appease their current base of older, white voters and not alienate the diverse electorate of a decade from now that leans heavily toward Democrats.
Led by Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas, Charles Grassley of Iowa, and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, these hardliners already see the potential for amnesty under the “Gang of Eight” as compromising the law. They have pressed for changes that could either sink the legislation or create insurmountable hurdles for achieving legal status. This would squander both the Hispanic vote and the potential economic boost from reform, which Republicans such as Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan have been banking on.
GOP opponents say that even with the billions of dollars slated to beef up border security, the triggers to assess progress, and the launch of an e-Verify system for employers, the bill doesn’t do enough to combat illegal immigration. And they say the “amnesty” provisions of the bill would create a huge drain on government social programs.
Cornyn told The Fiscal Times that he views the previous1986 immigration reform and 1996 effort for a “biometric” entry system as failed attempts to secure the border. To avoid repeating those “mistakes,” the Senate Minority Whip is promoting his so-called “Results” amendment to require full operational control of the U.S.-Mexican border by the Department of Homeland Security before allowing illegal immigrants to even begin the lengthy process of acquiring legal status or seeking full citizenship.
It’s his way to force a lockdown on the Mexican border, since failure would put the lives of 11 million—who lawmakers say cannot be deported en masse—in limbo.