No modern Presidential election has been determined by a single factor, although over time hindsight will diminish the perceived significance of some issues and the lens of history will bring others into sharper focus. That said, it is indisputable that President Obama owes his second term to Latino voters. The same fact put him into the White House four years ago.
The President’s debt is not just to “immigrants,” it is to American families, American workers, and American employers who have a stake in the passage of Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
Appropriately, the pundits will now debate the future of the Republican Party. Or, more accurately, the many Republican Parties; the national Presidential GOP, the Congressional GOP, the GOP that has swept statehouses across the land.
Given the electoral map and twenty-first century demographics, Republican prospects to recapture the White House will remain problematic, absent a clear-eyed recognition of who we are collectively and what America has become. In many states, not Arizona, Republican governors intuitively understand this and successfully govern accordingly.
In Congress, Republican leaders and many of their rank and file have put their heads in the sand. Given the realities of House apportionment, this collective myopia can allow incumbents to pander to special interests and to ignore significant portions of their constituency. Yet they remain in office without serious challenges. (Of course, Democrats are not immune, my own state is unfortunately illustrative: think Heath Shuler, who is retiring at the end of this session, Mike McIntyre, whose anti-immigrant posturing was a significant part of his reelection campaign, and who at this writing is maintaining his seat by the narrowest of margins, and Senator Kay Hagan, whose position on the DREAM Act is indistinguishable from Elizabeth Dole, who she defeated four years ago.)
Up until now, many Congressional Republicans counted on pursuing a rear guard action, heavily relying on insular gerrymandered districts, to provide them a firewall for just a “bit longer.” This strategy can, and has, hindered immigration reform, but is ultimately doomed. It is doomed as surely as was slavery in the 19th century, it is doomed as surely as was segregation in the 20th century. Restrictive and artificial Congressional districts cannot ultimately prevail against a tide of history driven by the reality of shifting demographics and moral imperatives.
The President’s detractors will continue to argue that he has no mandate on immigration, just as on many other issues. But as Mr. Obama demonstrated in launching DACA, the powers of presidency go beyond a mere “Bully Pulpit” (albeit a pulpit whose powers should never be minimized). The House would be well-advised to find common ground with the President and enact a fair and just immigration bill within the first 100 days of the new Congress. Call it enlightened self interest, call it the right thing to do.
Written by Jack Pinnix, Past AILA President and Member of the Board of Governors