The morning after a bipartisan vote to reopen the federal government, newspapers ran headlines praising President Obama. Politico explained that “Obama got exactly what he wanted” in an article titled “Obama Wins.” Now Mr. Obama is looking for another win, this time the creation of tens of millions of Democratic voters through a bill that would amnesty illegal aliens and double legal immigration. Many Republican congressmen are chomping at the bit to help the president score a second-term victory.
Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York recently told reporters that Mr. Obama wants immigration reform “more than anything else.” The Arizona Republic called amnesty “the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s second-term domestic agenda,” However, Mr. Obama needs Republicans in the House of Representatives to initiate an immigration bill. Those paying close attention know that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid never sent the Senate’s gargantuan amnesty bill (S. 744) over to the House. Why? Because the bill raises revenue and the Constitution requires all bills raising revenue to originate in the House, not the Senate. Mr. Reid is well aware that if he sent it to the House, the bill would be “blue-slipped” — stopped by a legislative procedure that allows House members to shut down a bill that runs afoul of the Constitution’s Origination Clause. In other words, there is no immigration bill for the House to take up. This means the White House is relying on the House Republicans to initiate Obama’s amnesty agenda.
Both the short-term and long-term politics of immigration look bad for the GOP.
First, the short-term. Many Republican politicians are upset with how the media portrayed their party during the shutdown and the debate over Obamacare. Some seem to think that passing an immigration bill would improve the GOP’s image and that journalists would praise the party’s effort to work in a bipartisan fashion. On Sunday, Rep. Jeff Denham of California became the first Republican to co-sponsor the House Democrats’ immigration bill. In reality, the moment Mr. Obama signs an immigration bill, it will be described as one of the greatest accomplishments of his presidency. The bill would never again be referred to as the result of a “bipartisan effort.” Recall that the effort to reopen government was bipartisan, yet the president received all of the credit.
The long view on immigration is much worse for Republicans, as the GOP will likely discover that Hispanic voters will not flock to the party of limited government simply because of its support for illegal immigration and amnesty. Only about one-third of Hispanic voters support Republican presidential candidates, a consistent trend for as long as such statistics have been collected. President Reagan’s signature on the 1986 amnesty bill did not benefit his vice president: Two years later, George H.W. Bush received a smaller percentage of the Hispanic vote, 30 percent, than Reagan did, 37 percent, in 1984.
Combined, current immigration plus the effects of the Senate amnesty bill would add more than 32 million potential new voting-age citizens by 2036. To place these figures in perspective, the last four presidential elections were decided by an average of 4.5 million votes. If Hispanic voting trends continue, it may be that an immigration bill is equivalent to a get-out-the-vote drive for the Democratic Party.
A recent Pew Research survey found that 81 percent of Hispanic immigrants would “rather have a bigger government providing more services” than “a smaller government providing fewer services.” By comparison, only 41 percent of general public feels the same way. According to a Pew Research/USA Today survey, 61 percent of Hispanics support Obamacare, which is well above the national average of only 42 percent. According to another Pew poll, 55 percent of Hispanics have a negative view of the word “capitalism” — the most negative response of all respondents, and even more negative than those who support the Occupy Wall Street movement. Unless the GOP plans to abandon many of its core positions, it is unlikely that amnesty will help the party.
Some Republican politicians think they can pass a legalization bill that’s “not an amnesty” by granting work visas that do not lead to citizenship. They think this will appease their corporate donors looking for cheap labor, but not infuriate their base. However, any type of legal status is amnesty, and noncitizenship legalization is simply a steppingstone to citizenship. Democrats might go along with such a bill, but only because it gives them an opportunity to hit the GOP over the head with cries of “Jim Crow immigration” for years to come. Eventually, Republicans would fold and vote to grant citizenship anyway, but not before giving the Democrats an opportunity to further damage the GOP brand.
Any Republican effort to advance an amnesty bill will be viewed as a win for Mr. Obama, and justifiably so: Mass immigration will benefit all of the president’s agenda items and create tens of millions of additional Democrats. If Mr. Obama wins on amnesty, Republicans risks losing on nearly every other issue.
Jon Feere is a legal policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies.