WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) — Immigration issues sit at the nexus of the current election cycle.
Republican nominee Donald Trump made building The Wall central to his campaign, saying he would guard American citizens from illegal Mexican “rapists” waltzing across the open southern border.
Hillary Clinton’s approach is the diametric opposite. Democrats are courting Hispanics, an essential and sizable segment of their base, by calling for fewer deportations and granting legal status to those already in the country illegally.
Both sides insist something must be done with the 11-14 million people living in America’s shadows.
What to do about them is another issue entirely.
That major sticking point can be boiled down to three words: pathway to citizenship.
Citizenship at stake
When politicians throw around the term “pathway to citizenship,” they could just as accurately be saying pathway to “voterhood.”
As newly-minted American citizens, the former illegal immigrants would be allowed to cast votes in local, state and federal races — easily swinging some of the final outcomes.
Among foreign-born Hispanic immigrants, Gallup found that 87 percent have favorable views of Clinton while only 13 percent approve of Trump.
Among U.S.-born Hispanics, Clinton still comes out on top but the approval gap is significantly smaller (43-29).
So if 11-14 million illegal immigrants — who, by definition, were born abroad — were permitted to vote, it would likely be an enormous electoral windfall for Democrats.
This better explains why Democrats demand that citizenship be included in comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), and most Republicans dismiss it out of hand.
Following Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012, GOP leaders commissioned a postmortem that found Republicans severely lagged with minorities and must make a concerted effort to earn their votes in future elections if they have any hope of recapturing the presidency.
Needless to say, that hasn’t happened in 2016.
Raw demographic realities are behind the prescribed pivot.
“The nation’s racial and ethnic minority groups—especially Hispanics—are growing more rapidly than the non-Hispanic white population,” reports Pew Research Center, finding that “Hispanics are more than a quarter of the nation’s youngest residents, according to the new population estimates, accounting for 26.3% of the population younger than age 1.”
Latina mothers give birth to an average of 2.4 children (compared to: 2.1 black; 1.8 Asian; 1.8 white).
In other words, the Latino population will continue climbing as the white vote diminishes.
Appealing primarily to older white men just won’t cut it if politicains want to win future national elections.
One of the dirtiest things you can say about a Republican in 2016 is that they’re soft on immigration, illegal or otherwise.
But not so long ago in 2013, CIR was coming together in the Senate and its creators had their own name: the Gang of Eight.
The members were noteworthy senators, equally divided between parties: Marco Rubio (R-Fla), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), John McCain (R-Ariz), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).
The Gang of Eight’s bill passed in the Senate, 68-32, designed to “clear the way for millions of undocumented residents to have a chance at citizenship, attract workers from all over the world and devote unprecedented resources for security along the U.S.-Mexico border,” reports Politico.
House Republicans blocked the bill and, with it, any viable chance of passing CIR in the near term.
Immigration tides turn
Three short years later, immigration reform divides the electorate, U.S. Senate, and presidential contenders more than ever.
A steady stream of refugees flooding the southern border alarms many Americans. The Supreme Court, by default of a 4-4 tie, blocked President Obama’s attempt to shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation and provide them work permits.
Trump has now promised to triple the number of deportation officers. Clinton promises to lead otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants to the promised land of citizenship.
Once a new president and Congress take their oaths in January 2017, voters expect the rhetoric to produce meaningful legislation.
But promises are easier made than kept in politics.
As for Sen. Graham, he’s already said he plans to “take the Gang of Eight bill out, dust it off and ask anybody and everybody who wants to work with me to make it better to do so.”
Whether that bill will clear the way for The Wall or citizenship pathway — or both — could become much clearer on November 8.
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales