That was fast.
It seemed like just hours after Tuesday’s election outcome, the talk in Washington turned to immigration reform. This, say many, is a very clear signal that politicians from both sides of the aisle ‘got the memo’ on how the majority of Latinos — as well as a solid majority of Americans — feel about immigration reform as a top voting priority.
“It is pretty remarkable how fast some legislators who had abandoned immigration reform are talking about it — it has been a wake up call,” says Rodolfo Espino, a political scientist at Arizona State University.
A solid majority of Hispanic voters sided with President Obama‘s and the Democrats’ support for immigration reform and Dreamer legislation, and rebuked Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” comments as well as Republican talk of “electric fences” and Arizona-style laws. In a pre-election impreMedia/Latino Decisions poll, immigration reform was the second most important topic to Latino registered voters, after jobs and the economy. Moreover, 57 percent of Hispanic voters said they were ‘less enthusiastic’ to vote for Governor Romney due to his immigration views, whereas 58 percent of Latino registered voters said they were more ‘more enthusiastic’ to vote for President Obama after his deferred action policy on Dreamers. National Council of La Raza’s Clarissa Martinez De Castro recently said that for Latinos, “immigration is personal.” Sixty percent of Hispanics in the impreMedia/Latino Decisions poll said they knew someone who is undocumented.
What was significant, according to many Latino grassroots organizers as well as political observers, was how immigration contributed to increased Latino voter turnout, enthusiasm and more importantly — votes. “Immigration was the connective tissue I saw among many voter registration groups,” said Rudy Lopez, national political director of the Campaign for Community Change.
With over 70 percent of Latinos voting for President Obama, as well as other key voting groups such as Asian Americans, Hispanic political leaders say it is inevitable; immigration has to be on the legislative table.
“I think voters spoke loud and clear, it makes for a strong starting point to initiative immigration reform — it gives us a mandate,” says Juan Sepulveda, Senior Advisor for Hispanic affairs for the Democratic National Committee. “It is in the Republicans’ political interest to do this,” adds Sepulveda. He added two thirds of voters polled said they support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
On Friday, Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told NBC Latino that while she and other Republican colleagues support immigration reform, “I don’t think this view is representative of the majority of our caucus,” she said. House Speaker John Boehner, while still stressing border security and other issues which might still prove contentious between both parties, did say, “it is time to get the job done.” And Republican Senator Lindsay Graham has resumed talks with Democratic Senator Charles Schumer about the importance of once again taking up immigration reform measures.
It remains to be seen, however, “whether some interests groups who are not in favor of immigration reform put pressure on Republican legislators to not go along with reform,” says political scientist Rodolfo Espino. “While some ‘players’ have emerged on the scene talking about immigration legislation, it will be interesting to see what rank-and-file Republicans think,” he adds.
One thing Republicans should note, says Espino, is that in a recent Latino Decisions poll, 38 percent of Arizona Latino registered voters said they would be more likely to vote for a Republican if the candidate supported immigration reform.
“That is pretty eye-opening in the land of Arpaio and SB1070,” says Espino. “It shows Latinos are willing to vote for different options and candidates, as long as their interests are represented.”