The Republican party is in a bit of a bind: its base cries out loudly for an enforcement immigration policy while its pathway to growth — Latino voters — practically demand an immigration reform policy. What’s a Grand Ol’ Party to do? The adopted Republican Party platform called for more border enforcement, the opposition of any kind of amnesty, requires all businesses to verify workers’ legal status through E-Verify, and halt federal funds to colleges and universities that allow undocumented students to enroll at lower in-state tuition rates.
Recently, Florida Senator Marco Rubio proposed his own version of the DREAM Act, but Michael Olivas, a professor who teaches immigration law at the University of Houston Law Center, called this proposed legislation, “a nightmare act.” The proposal wouldn’t have given students work permits, thus, it would have frozen them in place until something more substantive came along. And, based on the fact that just three Republicans in the Senate voted for the DREAM Act at the end of 2010, that policy would have been a long way off.
What’s happening instead is that the Republican party is falling into what Stephen A. Nuño, assistant professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University, calls “the California model.” To stay in power, Republicans are increasingly depending on whites to be elected to office, and in order to satiate that constituency’s desires, they have to move further and further to the right on issues like immigration.
“You don’t survive in a Republican party without taking these extreme kind of stances. To win a primary, you have to go far right,” Nuño explained. “Definitely, the Republicans have a problem, there’s not a whole lot of willingness to change that.”
The one entré Nuño sees for immigration reform in the Republican party’s platform is a long-term process by which Latino Republican leaders such as New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez or Rubio pave the way for more Latinos within the party. In 20 years, he said, maybe Latino Republicans won’t be so novel and an immigration reform platform will be possible.
But that assumes the Republican party is trying to change, said Professor Luis Fraga, Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement at the University of Washington and a political scientist who studies Latino voting behavior. Although not all Latino Republicans support the “attrition through enforcement” policies the party has become known for, some do, and this doesn’t pave the way for immigration reform organically appearing on the party platform.
“The Republican Party is comfortable being known as the party of white Americans with minimal Latino and African American support,” he said, noting that Latino voters tend to choose candidates based on policy positions, rather than their race or ability to speak Spanish.
Because in states where the party has solid majorities, not only do Republicans not have to endorse immigration reform, but Fraga said they mobilize their white base by speaking out against it. Consequently, they can accept losing Latino voters in swing states like Nevada, as well as potential swing states like Virginia and Ohio where Latino voters may be critical to a marginal Democratic victory. And so the question of immigration reform on the GOP platform becomes something of a chicken-or-egg question: if the GOP doesn’t endorse reform, will Latino voters come anyway — or must Latino voters come in order for the GOP to endorse reform?
“Without growth in Latino support the Republican Party risks becoming a permanent minority party, as it has in California,” Fraga said. “It may be that they have developed a strategy that they can still win a presidential election with Latino support at about 25% — I am not sure that this is true.”