Updated: December 3, 2012 6:36AM
It is a political truth universally acknowledged that the Republican Party needs to appeal to Hispanics if it wants to have a bright future in an America of changing demographics. But could it also be true that Hispanics have a compelling self-interest in supporting GOP candidates?
If immigration is indeed a pressing concern of Latinos, who thinks comprehensive reform can pass Congress without Republican votes? President Barack Obama didn’t bother to send a reform bill to Capitol Hill — as he promised to do in his first year in the White House — though he had huge Democratic majorities in both houses. Those are gone and no one expects them to return in this election. Thus any comprehensive immigration package will require GOP votes.
Who was the last president to sign such a measure into law?
Republican Ronald Reagan.
The 1986 law turned out to be something of a pyrrhic victory. It granted amnesty for 3 million illegal immigrants but produced no border control to stem illegal crossings. The law in effect made the United States a magnet for migrants traveling outside the legal immigration system. That’s the basis for suspicion and opposition among some in both parties, but mainly Republicans, to new legislation. It’s not an unreasonable position.
Who was the last president to try to get Congress to pass immigration reform?
Republican George W. Bush, who in 2007 backed a bipartisan bill to grant legal status to millions of illegal immigrants. True, it floundered on conservative Republican opposition over the amnesty vs. border control issue. But it also ran into Democratic roadblocks, specifically from one senator carrying water for labor unions by backing poison-pill amendments to weaken guest worker provisions. That senator was Barack Obama.
Confronted with a close election and the inconvenient truth of his failure to deliver on his 2008 promise to press for immigration reform, Obama cynically played for Latino votes by going around Congress and imposing by executive fiat a measure to legalize young people brought into this country illegally by their parents. The message seems pretty clear: Obama cares about immigration when he needs Hispanic votes.
GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, after engaging in harsh immigration-control rhetoric during the GOP primary, has pledged to Hispanics that he will “work with Republicans and Democrats to permanently fix our immigration system.” Obama has no record of reaching across the aisle in Congress, while Romney does have a history of working with a Democratic-controlled legislature as governor of Massachusetts. Who would history suggest has a better chance of achieving bipartisan immigration reform?
Still, jobs is the top issue for most Hispanics, just as it is for most Americans. The unemployment rate for Latinos is around 10 percent, 2 percentage points higher than for the overall population. As Romney notes, 2 million more Hispanics live in poverty than when Obama took office.
Polls show Hispanics hugely favoring Obama. But Romney has a record in business for being a turn-around expert who, as National Review writer Kevin Williamson noted, has never disappointed anyone who hired him. He proposes a five-point economic turn-around plan. Obama is promising only more of the same that has left Latinos in dire economic straits — and little hope for immigration reform.