Republicans’ new worst fear isn’t defaulting on America’s debts. If an immigration policy favored by the White House and Senate Democrats should become law, 17.3 million newly legalized immigrant voters would emerge by 2036, eager to reward the party that gave them a path to citizenship.
The White House has shifted gears and put its policy team in immigration overdrive, zooming past the debt crisis that threatened to sink the republic and on to the task of normalizing the estimated 11 million U.S. residents who have no legal basis for being there.
The Democrat-dominated U.S. Senate passed a bill in June that would provide a citizenship path for those who have been in the U.S. since the end of 2011. But as with the early days of the debt crisis and the partial government shutdown, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives aren’t eager to consider it.
The White House has avoided saying that it take advantage of a weak House and spend its political capital to push an immigration policy, but Republicans have reason to suspect the other shoe is about to drop.
The Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C. think-tank, projects that the Senate bill, S.744, would add 17.3 million new legal, voting-age U.S. residents to 14.9 million whom analysts already expect to appear without the proposed law.
‘To place these figures in perspective,’ writes Steven Camarota, the group’s director of research, ‘the last four presidential elections were decided by 4.5 million votes on average.’
Converting illegal immigrants into citizens has long been a Democratic Party brass ring. And not only, as President Barack Obama told business leaders on Sept. 18, because ‘we know . . . that that can add potentially a trillion dollars to our economy, and that we will continue to attract the best and brightest talent around the world.’
Hispanics are the biggest ethnic group involved in U.S. immigration. In the 2012 elections, 77 per cent of those who voted supported Democratic candidates for Congress, according to the polling group Latino Decisions. Seventy-five per cent voted for Obama.
Among Hispanic voters who weren’t born in the U.S., Democratic congressional candidates picked up 81 per cent of the vote. Obama rated 80 per cent.
In fact, Republicans’ share of Hispanic votes in presidential elections peaked in 2004, at 43 per cent, before tumbling in the next two elections.
And the Pew Research Center has consistently found that large majorities Hispanic voters favor policies that produce governments with bigger footprints and more social programs.
‘There are things that we know will help strengthen our economy that we could get done before this year is out,’ the president said Wednesday night as focus on the debt-limit fix bill moved from the Senate to the House.
‘A law to fix our broken immigration system’ was first on his wish-list.
‘We had a very strong Democratic and Republican vote in the Senate,’ Obama told the Los Angeles affiliate of the Spanish-language network Univision on Tuesday, comparing it to the debt battle. ‘The only thing right now that’s holding it back is again, Speaker Boehner not willing to call the bill on the floor of the House of Representatives.’
‘So we’re going to have to get through this crisis that was unnecessary, that was created because of the obsession of a small faction of the Republican Party on the Affordable Care Act. Once that’s done – you know, the day after – I’m going to be pushing to say, “call a vote on immigration reform.”‘
Republicans in the House are less split on Obamacare than on immigration, with some arguing that rewarding lawbreakers sets a bad example and others pointing to economic advantages of a larger workforce willing to undertake manual labor, and a boom in fast-tracked visas for those with specialized skills.
But if Obama thinks he has the GOP on the ropes, an aide to a conservative House Republican lawmaker told MailOnline, he will be surprised by the party unity that will return as soon as someone breathes ‘the “A”-word: “Amnesty”.’
‘Everyone in the House Republican caucus wants to get rid of Obamacare,’ the aide said, ‘but not everyone agreed killing it was worth going to the mat.’
‘But we’re talking about changing voting patterns for maybe 100 years and creating natural advantages for candidates who will run against our guys. It’s like giving my boss 40 pounds of rocks to carry over his shoulder, and letting his challenger walk around with a fanny pack full of feathers.’
The debt-limit and shutdown fights, says Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador, may have made immigration advocates’ uphill climb even steeper, especially for Republicans who suspect President Obama of having an ulterior motive.
‘I think what he’s done over the last two and half weeks [is] he’s trying to destroy the Republican Party,’ Labrador said Wednesday at the monthly Conversations with Conservatives meeting organized by the Heritage Foundation.
‘And I think that anything we negotiate right now with the president on immigration will be with that same goal in mind, which is to destroy the Republican Party and not to get good policies.’
‘There are things that we are on the same page about,’ Labrador said, ‘and if he is unwilling to negotiate on those things I don’t see how he could in good faith negotiate with us on immigration.’
House Republicans’ strategy so far has been to approach the Senate bill piecemeal, advancing parts of it–border security and more fences, for instance–that GOP leaders like.
Speaker John Boehner has said Senate Democrats’ more comprehensive approach won’t reach the House floor, even though 14 Senate Republicans gave it ‘yes’ votes.
But the fight over the partial government shutdown that occupied half of October may have given Democrats insights into how to combat that strategy.
House Republicans offered a series of nearly a dozen one-off bills to fund government agencies and initiatives whose absence became a black eye, including the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Veterans Affairs and salary payments for active-duty military.
Obama found he could stave off the pressure to sign all but a few, insisting on an all-or-nothing approach–which he eventually got.
‘It’s different, of course, because there’s no economic catastrophe awaiting if Republicans sit on their hands with immigration,’ a Democratic campaign strategist told MailOnline on Wednesday.
‘But the White House has learned how stubborn some of the Republicans are willing to be. And more important, they’ve figured out which ones are worth trying to reason with.’
While some Republican moderates will be unwilling to cross the tea party caucus while the sting of the debt defeat is still in the air, others have already signaled their openness to meet Democrats halfway, mostly in one-off measures that carve out pet projects from the larger immigration issue.
California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a long-time supporter of immigration reform, said this month that she will do ‘whatever it takes’ to find a bill that the House can bring to the Senate.
She’s open to going to a House-Senate legislative conference with ‘one bill, two bills, one at a time, singly, jointly, severally, whatever,’ betting that whatever emerges from such a meeting would including ‘comprehensive immigration reform that will lead to a pathway to citizenship.’
Pelosi may find some help from a few Republicans.
The Associated Press reported on Sept. 30 that Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, has been openly discussing how to change the immigration status of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. without awarding them special status.
His idea is to allow illegal immigrants to have legal work status–a ‘green card’–and then to allow them access to a list of existing routes to citizenship. They could be sponsored by a U.S. company, for instance, or by a relative who’s already a citizen.
Goodlatte favors this more narrow approach to the Senate’s catch-all bill, which has a companion bill in the House that no Republicans have been willing to endorse.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, another Virginia Republican, is also helping Goodlatte with a bill that would provide a path to citizenship for immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children.
Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador and Texas Rep. Ted Poe are trying to create a visa program that would target low-skilled workers for migration into the U.S.
Several of these narrow proposals have already passed through House committees, and their Republican chairman are hoping they see action.
House Homeland Security Committee chairman Mike McCaul of Texas told the AP that he thinks a series of immigration bills ‘would be the next agenda item in the queue after we’re done with this [debt limit] mess.’
Cantor spokesman Doug Heye insists, however, that while ‘moving immigration forward remains a priority . . . right now there’s no firm timetable.’
Goodlatte has said, though, that he wants to see some movement by the end of October on a bill that could give the Senate some basis to negotiate.
A senior aide to a southern Republican House member said that ultimately, some Republicans don’t want their party to be ‘on the wrong side of the new electoral math,’ and ‘if we can create our own grateful constituency, that’s just good politics in addition to doing the right thing.’