Immigration Reform and the Republican Party Hit Dead End

One of the biggest bogeymen in American politics is the undocumented Mexican immigrant. Few things can predictably whip conservative activists into a frenzy like the suggestion that 11 million undocumented workers should be allowed to come out from the shadows and given an opportunity to pursue a long and arduous path toward citizenship.

Republicans, like Iowa Congressman Steve King, describe a southern border so unprotected (part of a diabolical scheme by Democrats who want to pack the electorate with sympathetic voters) that America is hanging onto its sovereignty by a fragile thread.

The GOP is so determined to deny Obama of what they view as any hint of legislative achievement that they’re willing to destroy their party’s chances
of retaking the White House or functioning as anything more than a regional, white, obsolete protest movement, not a modern political force.

So it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that a bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate with nearly 70 votes doesn’t stand a chance of even getting a vote in the Republican-controlled House. The conventional wisdom was always that Republicans would never dare to be so politically self-destructive as to alienate Hispanic voters even more than they already have (Mitt Romney only got a pitiful 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012.) Yet comprehensive immigration reform was slaughtered this week in the House, and Republicans are still looming over its corpse, enthusiastically gripping a bloody butcher knife.

Of course, the bogus refrain coming from conservatives who oppose the Senate bill is that it doesn’t do enough to secure the border, because apparently illegal immigrants are pouring in from Mexico at an alarming rate and destroying our economy.

The facts paint a very different picture. First, the Senate bill doesn’t shortchange border security; it actually goes completely overboard and wastes a staggering $46 billion militarizing a border that is already far more secure under President Obama than it was under George W. Bush. Since Obama took office, there have been more border patrols, more border agents and more deportations of illegal immigrants than during any previous administration. And his administration has also been significantly more aggressive than his predecessors’ in enforcing employment of undocumented workers, cracking down on businesses that hire illegal immigrants. Net illegal immigration from Mexico is now zero, or possibly even in negative territory. But Republicans still won’t take yes for an answer.

In an attempt to salvage the image debacle this will create for the party nationally, since there really is no reconciling the wildly divergent priorities of the national GOP and individual House members, Republicans are trying to offer their own piecemeal approach. This would essentially focus on completely unnecessary border security measures, but avoid actual solutions, like an effective guest-worker program and a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented people already in the country. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who was one of the key negotiators for the Senate bill, has said unequivocally that any measure without a path to citizenship is a nonstarter. But looking at the votes in the House, there is no way Speaker John Boehner can get anywhere close to half of his caucus to support legislation that even vaguely resembles the Senate bill or anything with a path to citizenship. And since Boehner has vowed only to allow a vote on a bill that can muster a majority of House Republicans, reform has essentially hit a dead end.

Every four years, the consistent trend has been that Hispanics increase their share of the electorate by two or three percent in the presidential election, while the white vote decreases. Some conservatives are still deep in the clutches of denial, insisting that the real focus should be on mobilizing more white voters.

Any party that only focuses on older white voters, and continues to alienate the fastest growing segment of the electorate, has no prayer of competing on a national level in the years to come. The demographic shifts are simply too substantial for Republicans to ignore. Smarter Republican strategists who see the writing on the wall, like Karl Rove and former John McCain campaign adviser Steve Schmidt, understand this. But most of their fellow Republicans won’t listen to their dire warnings.

On a broader scale, this week’s death of meaningful immigration reform is the latest in a series of examples of why the rest of the Obama presidency may not be very productive. The Republican Party is so determined to deny Obama of what they view as any hint of political or legislative achievement that they’re willing to destroy their party’s chances of retaking the White House or functioning as anything more than a regional, white, obsolete protest movement, not a modern political force.

 

Doug Daniels is a former staff reporter for Campaigns & Elections. He is the author of the forthcoming memoir Sifting Through the Wreckage.