After months of rhetoric on immigration reform from Republicans hoping to shore up their conservative credentials, it is time for them to seize a historic opportunity. How they respond to it will affect their future for decades to come.
In scripture, there is a phrase equivalent to Carpe Diem. The phrase is to “redeem the time,” and a very crude translation would be “to cash in on a fleeting opportunity.” Perhaps a better understanding of the term would be “to act quickly on an opportunity that will only be here briefly and to use it in a redemptive manner.”
Republicans face such a moment right now, a moment that will pass quickly, damning them to decades of lost elections if they fail to seize it, or blessing them for years to come if they use it productively.
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The GOP is expected to release a set of principles for immigration reform shortly before, or shortly after, this year’s State of the Union address. Republicans control the fate of immigration reform. Speaker Boehner has an opportunity to be either a facilitator or a barrier to it. All indications are that he wants to be a facilitator. Both his comments and staffing changes within his administration indicate that Boehner wants to seize this moment and use it in ways that will fix a badly broken immigration system, and strengthen the Republican Party’s electoral prospects in the 21st century. Hopefully, solid Ohio conservatives like Steve Chabot, Brad Wenstrup, Jim Jordan, and others will recognize the significance of this moment and use it to strengthen America as a whole, and the long-term prospects for their party in particular. And why not? Conservatives have an optimistic vision for America’s future and they should lead the way on reform.
[RELATED on OCR: “A Conservative’s Case for Immigration Reform”]
A knowledge of demographic trends lies behind this sense of urgency. Between now and 2050 the U.S. population will add 142 million people, growing by nearly 50%. Jeffrey Passel and D’vera Cohn reported that 82% of this growth would be due to immigrants and their decendants. The Latino portion of our population will grow by 86 million, reaching 128 million, or 30% of our population. According to Pew Research, by 2030 the Latino vote will double in significance, with Latinos accounting for 40% of the increase in eligible voters between now and then.
These are big numbers. Allow me to make three comparisons that put the growth in the number of Latinos into perspective. Mind you, I am only talking about the increase of 86 million Latinos, not the total of 128 million.
Adding 86 million new Latinos by 2050 is equivalent to adding three new states the size of California, Texas, and New York. Or, for a comparison closer to home, it would be like adding eight new states the size of Ohio.
Put differently, that is equivalent to adding 31 states the size of America’s 31 smallest states combined, plus the District of Columbia. Collectively these states and D.C. cast 188 of the 270 electoral votes needed to elect a President. (And remember, these projections don’t include the 41 million Latinos who are already here.)
Now, if you can stand it, imagine if the perceptions of Republicans held by these new residents are shaped by the rhetoric Ted Cruz and Steve King. When America goes to the polls in 2032 there will be over 40 million registered Latino voters, more than twice the number who were registered in the 2012 election. That is four and a half presidential elections from now, and Latino influence will increase in each successive election.
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Republicans need to be aware of two important facts. First, they don’t need to concede these votes to the Democratic Party. Second, they don’t even need to win a majority of Latino votes in order to win elections. In each election, which Republican candidates have won since 1972, they won at least 30% of the Hispanic vote. In every election they lost, except one, they carried less than 30% of the Hispanic vote. The one exception was McCain’s loss in 2008, when he won 31% of Hispanic votes.
This matters. Romney carried 27% of the Hispanic vote. Imagine if he had reacted differently to Rick Perry’s quick rise in the primaries. Imagine if Romney had celebrated his Mexican ancestry rather than reveling in the prospect of self-deportation. Imagine if he had laid out an agenda of sensible and common-sense principles for immigration reform, reforms that calmed the fears of those concerned about border security and simultaneously fueled the hopes of those who long to share the American dream.
Pew Research noted that Latino influence is especially strong in battleground states. Florida, for example could have been pivotal. Romney won 49.1% of the vote. With a shift of a scant 36,000 votes he would have carried the state. There were 1,660,000 registered Latino voters in Florida that year, 42% of whom were registered as Republicans. Kopicki and Irving, of the New York Times, report that had Romney carried a slightly higher margin of Latinos he would have won the State. The same was true in New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado. Collectively, these states cast 49 electoral votes, not enough to have swung the election, but enough to put it within reach.
To regain the Presidency, Republicans must run more like Reagan and Bush, and less like Romney. They must treat Latinos with respect and emphasize themes like the economy, educational opportunity, family, and faith: themes that resonate with Latino voters and conservatives alike.
And then there is the issue of immigration reform.
Republicans can do several things right now to strengthen their standing with what may be the most critical voting bloc of the 21st century.
First, we need to let Latinos know that we recognize and defend their right to be treated with basic human dignity. We need to stand up to the angry and sometimes racist attitudes of people at the extreme fringes of the Party. Very few people in the Republican Party share the overtly negative impressions of immigrants that these extremists freely express. In a previous article, I noted that a vast majority of Americans, including nearly 70% of Republicans, support broad-based immigration reform. Republicans can’t afford to allow the remaining 30% to misrepresent the party.
Admittedly, not all who oppose immigration reform are extremists or racists. Some have legitimate concerns about national security and the impact on the economy. These concerns can be easily addressed by educating the voting public about the economic benefits of immigration, and taking reasonable steps to modernize the process for legally entering the country and addressing border security.
Second, Republicans need to actively promote, not merely tolerate, a reasonable common-sense approach to immigration reform. It is okay for Republicans to acknowledge that they are against unconditional amnesty (even though no one is actually proposing it), but they should always acknowledge that we are a nation of immigrants, and that immigration has made America strong. An influx of new talent and new ambition is good for American business and productivity. Without it we wouldn’t have companies like U.S. Steel, eBay, Google, Procter & Gamble, AT&T, and many others.
Condoleezza Rice and others at the Bipartisan Policy Center stated,
“A steady flow of legal immigrants contributes to sustaining a healthy, productive population. It strengthens the U.S. housing market, increases tax revenues, and contributes to the financial stability of our entitlement programs and supports entrepreneurship. The immense contribution that legal immigrants have made to our nation’s economic development is well documented: American history is full of stories of immigrants who have fully integrated into our society and built businesses from the ground up. Immigrants helped found many corporate giants, and they play a huge role in Silicon Valley and other centers of technology and innovation.”
Rice and her associates at the Bipartisan Policy Center have outlined a reasonable way forward on immigration. They begin by addressing matters of border security stating,
“The public deserves to know whether the nation’s borders are secure…. Congress should authorize the establishment of a set of scientifically valid measures to assess progress on border control. These measures should be audited by an independent commission, provide a comprehensive picture of the flow of unauthorized immigration and be published periodically for public scrutiny.”
Next, they acknowledge that we must develop a fair and effective way of dealing with the 11 million who are already here. They maintain that
“Those who pay all penalties, pass a criminal background check and fully comply with other requirements should have the ability to eventually apply for citizenship. This approach is consistent with the American values of fairness and decency.”
Other suggestions include stronger employer verification, steps to ensure fairness for those who have attempted to follow existing laws, and a robust guest worker visa program matched to our economic needs.
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Republican legislators should aggressively heed Rice’s advice and actively advocate for these reforms. Grudgingly accepting these changes will do little to endear them to Latino voters, and opposition will doom them for decades to come, possibly keeping the White House out of their reach for the rest of this century. The last Party known for its anti-immigrant, nativist values was the Know Nothing Party, and it basically ceased to exist in 1860.
It’s Carpe Diem time for Republicans. Let’s pray they choose wisely.
Carl Ruby is a consultant focused on Republican advocacy for immigration reform. He is currently founding a new nonprofit organization focused on the economic empowerment of Ohio’s first generation Americans and a research consortium devoted to the study of factors related to the upward mobility of immigrants.
Visit carlruby.com to see how he is networking among evangelical leaders and members of Congress to reform immigration.
All opinions expressed belong solely to their authors and may not be construed as the opinions of other writers or of OCR staff.
1. Passel, Jeffrey, & D’Vera Cohn. “U.S. Population Projections: 2005-2050.” Pew Center Hispanic Trends Project. Pew research Center. 11 February 2008. Web. 20 January 2014.
2. Gonzalez-Barrbera, Ana. & Jeffrey Passel. “An Awakened Giant: The Hispanic Electorate is Likely to Double by 2030.” Pew Hispanic Trends Project. Pew Research Center, 14 November 2012. Web. 20 January 2014.
3. Chilliza, Chris. (2013, March 18). “The Republican Problem with Hispanic Voters – In 7 Charts.” The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-
4. “Latino Voters in the 2012 Election.” Pew Center Hispanic Trends Project. Pew Research Center. 7 November 2013. Web. 20 January 2014.
5. Leahy, Michael. “333,000 Votes in 4 Swing Votes Would Have Given Romney the Election.” Breitbart. 11 November 2012. Web. 20 January 2014.
6. Mottel, Seth, & Eileen Patten. “Latinos in 2012 Election: Florida.” Pew Center Hispanic Trends Project. Pew Research Center. 1 October 2012. Web. 20 January 2014.
7. Kopiki, Allison & Will Irving. (2012, November 20). “Assessing How Pivotal the Hispanic Vote Was to Obama’s Victory.” New York Times. Retrieved from http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/20/assessing-how-pivotal-the-hispanic-vote-was-to-obamas-victory/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0
8. Ruby, Carl. “Two New Surveys Show Strong Support for Immigration Reform: Is Washington Listening.” Ohio Conservative Review. 27 November 2013. Web. 20 January 2014.
9. Rice, Condoleezza, Henry Cisneros, Ed Rendell, & Haley Barbour. “The Way Forward on Immigration.” Politico. 15 August 2013. Web. 20 January 2014.
10. Rice, et al.
11. Rice, et al.