Given the changing demographics of the country and the prominence of what you could frankly call identity politics in this week’s election, it would be political malpractice for Democrats not to press their advantage and work to build their support among the Latino community. It’s not just that comprehensive immigration reform would foster goodwill among Hispanics, it’s that at the most crass level, it would smooth the flow of millions more Democrat-friendly, non-white potential voters into the country legally. That’s true of not just the Hispanic community but the Asian community, which is actually growing faster and which swung 72% for Obama.
Senate Democrats have signaled that they will make this a top priority in 2013. But it’s important to identify this priority as fundamentally a political one, relative to a policy priority.
“I am optimistic,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said of immigration reform at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast on Thursday morning. Schumer chairs the immigration subcommittee. “It is a little bit of a mirror image like the fiscal cliff. I think there are a large number of Republicans who understand that the anti-immigrant position, no immigration, we couldn’t even pass a [worker visa] STEM bill through the House because the Republican caucus said you can’t have a net increase in any immigrants.”
A Democratic Senate source who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Huffington Post that the full push for reform won’t happen immediately, but will begin soon after Obama starts his second term. The Dream Act, which would give legal status to undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children, will be included in the efforts, according to the source [...]
Schumer said Senate Democrats “basically have the outlines” for immigration reform, which includes pressuring Republican members who previously showed support for visa measures to come back to the cause. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) will be targeted in particular, Reid and Schumer said.
“I think [Republicans] are going to want to do it now,” Schumer said. “[It] is at the top of the list because the nation demands it and needs it. And, again, I think in the exit polls, two-thirds of Americans basically agreed with the concept of real immigration reform.”
A couple things for background. One, it was Schumer who authored the immigration bill in 2010 with Lindsey Graham, so he’s talking his book. And Graham, up for re-election in 2014, is unlikely to touch this at all. Second, it was DEMOCRATS in the Senate who stopped the DREAM Act in 2010. It got 55 votes and 5 Democrats, including the newly re-elected Jon Tester, voted against it. I can list probably three Republican DREAM Act supporters – Murkowski, Collins and newly elected Jeff Flake. I think former co-sponsors Orrin Hatch and John McCain are lost causes, and Marco Rubio only wants a bill on his terms, which are unacceptable to Senate Democratic leaders. So if this were a legitimate policy priority, it would have to be accompanied by a push on the Democratic side to limit losses.
That would involve making those anti-immigration Democrats walk the plank for no discernible benefit. Because I cannot see a Republican House going near this. And here’s where this becomes a political rather than a policy priority. Democrats want to continue this alienation process between Republicans and non-whites. So they’ll try to pass an immigration bill a week. A STEM bill might pick up House Republican support, if they back down from eliminating the green card lottery in exchange. But the goal of a comprehensive bill would be to show the public that Democrats are “fighting for comprehensive immigration reform,” without any hope that the policy will succeed.
I actually think sometimes there’s value in that, even for future policy fights. And who knows, Republicans may return to their Bush-era position and crack. When the Wall Street Journal editorial board is pleading to Republicans to “leave its anti-immigration absolutists behind,” who knows what can happen.
It’s worth noting that deportations remain at record highs, and the affinity among Hispanics for Democrats is not pre-ordained. For the moment, Democrats are making a commitment, but mainly to exploit the wedge.