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In the latest in a series of political blunders, the Republicans' push for immigration reform has backfired on the party. In December, when the GOP first called attention to illegal immigration, it was commonly viewed as a winning electoral strategy; it would fire up their increasingly apathetic conservative base in addition to giving congressional Republicans an accomplishment to tout in their re-election bids. By appealing to security fears and the xenophobia of groups like the Minutemen (for whom legitimate immigration ended the moment their anscestors arrived), they predicted that it would be the wedge issue of the midterm elections (think gay marriage in 2004). Furthermore, anything that would take media attention away from a disastrous war, unpoplar president, numerous criminal investigations, etc., was viewed as a blessing.

And so, House Republicans passed HR4437, a testament to the complexity and innovation of Republican thought: "I've got it...lets build a really big wall!" To be fair, the bill contains other equally horrible ideas. For example, it outlaws aid to those immigranting illegally (thus criminalizing numerous church groups and Amnesty which provide food and water to people crossing the harsh Southwestern desert) and most horrendously, makes illegal immigration a felony. Lets ponder that last one: so we're not going to let them stay here and work and pay taxes, nor are we going to send them back to Mexico; we're going to spend tax dollars to keep them in prison, then deport them. Fantastic.

However, the millions who have protested in recent weeks in 140 cities accross the country demonstrated the importance of this issue to the Latino community and their ability to unite and mobilize into a potent political force. By stressing their hard work, intense patriotism, and the central importance of immigration in the history of America, illegal immigrants and their supporters have elicted sympathy for their cause and gained support for a more lenient measure which includes a path to citizenship for those who pay their taxes and obey the law.

Not only are the Republicans now facing legislation that will likely be more lenient than if they never broached the topic of illegal immigration in the first place, but their strategy is likely to result in electoral gains for the Democrats as well. Hispanics are the fastest growing voting bloc in the country, and despite Bush's dream of making them a Republican constituency, vote blue two thirds of the time. An explosive issue like this has the potential to increase turnout among the Latino population (which is among the lowest in the country) and make it a solid Democratic constituency for a generation. Analysts predict that Hispanic voters will help swing the southwest to the Dems by the 2012 election.

Immigration has become a lose-lose issue for Republicans. On one hand, they face letting down their conservative base with too lenient a bill, while on the other they risk alienating an entire voting bloc, not to mention the fact that their financial base in the business isn't eager to see cheap labor get deported. Enjoy the show.


Jeff Durkin said...

California may be a bellwether here. As far as I understand it, Republicans in that state tried to pass some extreme anti-immigration measure a decade or two ago, which completely alienated the Hispanic vote. Now it's reliably Democratic. So hopefully Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Florida will also tilt.

The other good news is that states with high concentrations of Hispanic voters are also those that are growing the fastest.

OrSkolnik said...

Great post. After the Republicans are done imploding on this, think we need to make an especially big deal out of the church-crime issue. Republicans are literally outlawing "love thy neighbor." It really doesn't get any worse than that.