By Eduardo Stanley
FRESNO, California — Now that President Obama has unveiled his plans to overhaul the obsolete immigration law, many former opponents of such an idea are joining the tide, hoping to gain some Latino political support. But is it too late for them?
“If you can’t beat them, join them” seems to be the thinking among conservative politicians who are now announcing their support of such overhaul.
The last immigration reform occurred in 1986 with strong bipartisan support. Since then, both parties have taken different approaches to the issue.
After the electoral defeat in November 2012, Republicans apparently understood that the conservative agenda doesn’t have much appeal to the majority of voters — particularly among so-called minorities and young people.
Considering the demographics, especially in certain areas of the country, Republicans are right to be concerned about losing their appeal to minorities.
Let’s point out that not only Latinos are among the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. According to the Pew Research Center, 11 percent of them are Asians, while Hispanics represent 81 percent. This finding was published in 2011.
The problem for Republicans is that in several states minorities like Latinos are becoming the majority of the population, and history shows that they mainly vote Democrat.
Take, for example, California.
According to projections from the state’s Department of Finance, by the year 2014 Latinos "will become the plurality" of the population. This means the white population will start losing its present electoral power.
Currently, Republicans in California are behind Democrats in the number of registered voters.
According to the Secretary of State, for the 2012 elections 43.7 percent of registered voters declared themselves Democrats, while 29.4 percent called themselves Republicans. The combination of these numbers with the demographic changes in the state may put conservatives at the brink of political ostracism.
During the 2012 elections, 71 percent of Latinos voted for President Obama giving him the victory in key states such as Colorado and Florida. Immediately Republicans realized the need to court Latino voters if they want to survive and win elections, especially in some areas of the country where they are becoming politically obsolete. To this end, their first reaction was to change their stance on immigration.
For example, California Republican Senator Anthony Canella called for the state to consider providing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and supported Obama’s call for immigration reform.
Will this bring the Latino sympathy — and the votes — to Republicans? It may be too little, too late. However, in politics nothing is written in stone.
Republicans didn’t understand some strong and clear signs that something was changing in the country. Perhaps the most clear sign became visible in 2006, when millions of immigrants and pro-immigrant’s rights groups took to the streets to express opposition to the virulent anti-immigrant bill HR-4437.
The bill, sponsored by James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), passed the House on December 2005, but the Senate didn’t consider it due to public reaction. And in November 2006, Democrats gained control of Congress.
At that point, a change of mind by Republicans could have helped make gains on the Latino front. Instead, they continued pressing the issue and supporting similar bills at the state level, like the famous Arizona bill AB1070 of 2010, considered then the most radical anti-immigrant law.
Before that, in 2007, Republicans stopped the Kennedy-McCain bill in the US Senate — a shy immigration reform bill with some bipartisan support.
With the Minutemen using the US-Mexico border as a background picture and the Tea Party in the making, conservatives’ anti-immigrant stance sounded unstoppable. Many Latinos expressed dismay, not just to Republican’s opposition to immigration reform, but also to their rhetoric, which they considered insulting.
Immersed in such dynamics, Republicans were unable to understand the signs of social change happening in the “underground” (the way Latinos receive and broadcast political information), the role of the Spanish media, the support network that goes well beyond Washington-based Hispanic groups and organizations, and the overall political climate at ground level.
The current proposal by the White House to reform the current immigration law is, in part, the result of those movements and events that started happening in 2006 — if we only consider the most recent past.
It is also the result of an unbearable situation that keeps millions of people in the shadows. With the present economic crisis, allowing thousands of people to become residents may help at least partially to reinvigorate the economy.
If such a reform takes place, it could result in the incorporation of up to 3 million new residents — and later citizens. It is a number that will reshape the electoral map in several states, and perhaps the country.
How did we get to this point? In the next series of articles, we’ll try to answer this and other related questions.
Eduardo Stanley is a California-based bilingual journalist specializing in commentaries, news and photojournalism. His work can be found at EduardoStanley.com.