Congressional Republicans are drafting legislation that would require the federal government to develop a plan to add more fencing, sensors, agents and even drones to stop every illegal entry into the United States.
The Democrats’ Senate majority means the latest legislation is unlikely to pass, but the goal may be more political. By continuing to spearhead such measures, Republicans, who feel they are in agreement with most voters, hope to force Democrats to take a position on immigration issues in advance of the 2012 campaign.
The debate’s change in tone also comes as census data show that Latinos comprise the fastest-growing block of voters, potentially a complicating factor for Republican strategists. The number of Latino voters is increasing most in states that in 2010 gained congressional seats and Electoral College votes, according to a study released in January by the Pew Hispanic Center.
Immigration skirmishes seem to excite the Republican base, said Wayne Cornelius, a professor emeritus at UC San Diego who has spent more than 40 years studying cross-border migration.
“In the short-term, they calculate they can gain more votes with these hard-liner proposals,” he said, but some may have qualms about alienating Latinos.
A Republican strategist acknowledged there was debate within the party about how to handle immigration enforcement without driving away Latino voters who might otherwise agree with the fiscal conservative aspects of the party platform. Republican activists have said they think some Latino voters support the GOP position on immigration.
But many Republicans want a modernized immigration system that is consistent with the values of an immigrant nation, and those party members who speak loudly against reforms are a “vocal minority,” said the strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the debate.
The Republican effort to push the Homeland Security Department to take a tougher stance on immigration enforcement follows a request last year by all seven Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee that asked the department to determine how much money it needed to deport every illegal immigrant the government encountered.
The Homeland Security Department has not estimated the cost, but a 2005 report by the Center for American Progress concluded it would require $206 billion over five years to deport the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally.
[Rep. Candice S.] Miller’s proposed legislation would require the Homeland Security Department to give Congress a five-year plan to bring unlawful entries and smuggling down to nearly zero, and let Congress decide whether to fund it. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) and 10 other Republicans have agreed to co-sponsor the bill, which could be introduced as early as Thursday.