There has been some speculation recently as to the political consequences for members of the House of Representatives on what is likely to be a summer vote on comprehensive immigration reform (see here and here, e.g.). Much of this discourse has focused on the general narrative that Republican elites want to pass comprehensive immigration reform so as to broaden their appeal to the Latino electorate, but that several of the GOP rank-and-file in the House may not vote for it because of fear that they’ll lose their next election in 2014.
Here’s my take on that particular narrative and the incentives involved for the various groups in the House:
Democrats from liberal districts: They will vote for immigration reform and they have every incentive from their constituents to do so.
Democrats from conservative districts: They might vote for it or they might vote against it; their constituents will probably not want them to. Either way, this group is not as influential simply because most of them lost in the 2010 midterm election. There aren’t enough left to drive the agenda!
Republicans from liberal districts: Not overly relevant: there are even fewer of them than there are Democrats from conservative districts.
Republicans from conservative districts: The question with this group is whether or not a Republican would risk losing their next election if they vote for comprehensive immigration reform against the wishes of their constituents. While there is some evidence (see here) that specific votes for Obama’s agenda cost representatives a few percentage points in the 2010 presidential election, the available evidence strongly suggests that Republican partisans, given the choice between voting for a Republican who voted for immigration reform and a Democrat, they’ll choose the Republican. The more relevant threat to these Republicans would be from a potential primary challenger. Focusing on that possibility would make for a more interesting and relevant narrative, from my perspective.
Finally, I tend to agree with those who argue that even if the GOP jumps on board and passes comprehensive immigration reform, there will likely not be a mass exodus of Latino parties to the Republican party in the 2014 or 2016 elections. Latinos, like most other demographic groups, are fairly stable with their partisan identities and voting preferences. If the GOP wants to regain some recent losses among Latinos, they should expect to have to dig in for the long haul.
According to a recent survey experiment by PRRI, Republican support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants increases by over 20% when the penalties are emphasized:
Two years ago, national evangelical leaders began to speak out in favor of legislation to give legal status to immigrants in the United States illegally. Now, as Congress is about to start a debate on overhauling the immigration system, conservative Christians, once inclined to take a hard line on immigrants they viewed as lawbreakers, are consulting their Bibles and coming around to the pastors’ view.
“I feel I would be representative of a typical longtime Baptist, one who grew up in the Baptist Church, who was raised in an evangelical family, and I would identify myself as a conservative Republican,” said Jay Crenshaw, 36, a lawyer in Orlando who attended a service at the megachurch last Sunday. “And I can tell you how much my views have changed.”
Full article available here:
Ultimately, these studies indicate that to one degree or another, American congregants of all political stripes tend to follow the lead of their religious leaders when it comes to immigration. President Obama was smart to enlist their support as he works with Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul this year.
Full article available here:
Full results here:
- “More than 7-in-10 (71%) Democrats, nearly two-thirds (64%) of independents, and a majority (53%) of Republicans favor an earned path to citizenship.”
- “Majorities of all religious groups, including Hispanic Catholics (74%), Hispanic Protestants (71%), black Protestants (70%), Jewish Americans (67%), Mormons (63%), white Catholics (62%), white mainline Protestants (61%), and white evangelical Protestants (56%) agree that the immigration system should allow immigrants currently living in the U.S. illegally to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements.”
The nationally-representative sample of more than 4,500 respondents makes this an especially useful survey.
I’m excited about the upcoming release of the results of this survey:
On March 21, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the religion, policy and politics project at Brookings will host a forum to release a new national opinion survey on religion, values and immigration reform. With nearly 4,500 respondents, the survey is one of the largest ever conducted on the issue of immigration. The accompanying research report, authored by PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones, PRRI Research Director Daniel Cox, and PRRI Research Associate Juhem Navarro-Rivera, along with Brookings Senior Fellows E.J. Dionne, Jr. and William Galston explores general sentiment toward immigrant communities, opinions on the impact that immigrants have on American culture and public support for specific policy approaches to immigration reform. The report also explores support for immigration policy among religious groups and the political implications of the issue for and within both the Democratic and Republican parties.
More information available here:
The usual suspects pushing immigration reform have a new ally in the fight this time — the religious right.
Christian conservatives, who stayed on the sidelines in 2006 or opposed reform outright, have sprung into action for the cause.
They’re talking to their congregations from the pulpit. They’re urging lawmakers in private meetings to support reform. And they’re even calling for change publicly.
Full article here:
Given my past research on religion and immigration attitudes, I find these developments very encouraging.
Some excerpts from David Brooks’ recent editorial on the case for immigration reform:
The forlorn pundit doesn’t even have to make the humanitarian case that immigration reform would be a great victory for human dignity. The cold economic case by itself is so strong. …
Thanks to the labor of low-skill immigrants, the cost of food, homes and child care comes down, living standards rise and more women can afford to work outside the home.
The second clear finding is that many of the fears associated with immigration, including illegal immigration, are overblown.
Immigrants are doing a reasonable job of assimilating. Almost all of the children of immigrants from Africa and Asia speak English and more than 90 percent of the children of Latin-American immigrants do. New immigrants may start out disproportionately in construction and food-service jobs, but, by second and third generation, their occupation profiles are little different from the native-born. …
The second big conclusion is that if we can’t pass a law this year, given the overwhelming strength of the evidence, then we really are a pathetic basket case of a nation.
Full article available here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/01/opinion/brooks-the-easy-problem.html
The thousand-mile journey to comprehensive immigration reform has begun, as you might expect for Washington, with a single memo. Eight senators, four from each party, released it on Monday: a statement of principles behind a deal to overhaul the system in one big bill. It calls for more border and workplace enforcement, more visas for needed workers and legalization — with a path to citizenship — for 11 million undocumented immigrants.
The statement lacks specifics and leaves a lot of room for disappointment and retreat. But what’s encouraging is that it exists at all. No longer does the immigration debate consist of two groups yelling across a void. No longer is the discussion hopelessly immobilized by Republicans who have categorically rejected any deal that includes any hint of “amnesty.”
Full editorial available from the New York Times:
From my perspective, the bipartisan immigration memo released this week is a very encouraging step in the right direction. As the NYT editorialists point out, there is a LOT to be concerned about with the proposal (the most significant being that the “pathway to citizenship” will be made conditional on reaching a level of border security that will be virtually impossible to achieve). However, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon for immigrant advocates (such as myself) that something might finally get done this year on immigration.
Since I do research on the intersection of religion and immigration attitudes and policy, I am encouraged to see things like this coming out in the news:
Richard Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said Tuesday at a news conference here that immigration was a “moral issue.” He warned Republicans that “if they want to be a contender for national leadership, they are going to have to change their ways on immigration reform.”
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the largest organization of Latino evangelicals, portrayed the Republicans’ dilemma in biblical terms. “They must cross the proverbial Jordan of immigration reform,” he said, “if they want to step into the promised land of the Hispanic electorate.”
Former President George W. Bush weighed back in to the discussion on Tuesday by calling on policy makers in Washington to revamp the law “with a benevolent spirit” that recognized the contribution of those who moved here from other countries.
When a majority of Republicans in Congress are not on the same page as 1) national religious leaders, and 2) George W. Bush, it’s likely that something is going to eventually give somewhere. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in 2013. It might finally be the year that some progress is made on comprehensive immigration reform.