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11/8: Immigration Policy Update: Obama Boosted to Second Term by America's Changing Demographics
Released 09 November 2012  By National Immigration Forum

Immigration Policy Update: Obama Boosted to Second Term by America's Changing Demographics

National Immigration Forum

A Diverse Electorate Gives the President another Term

It was only a few years ago that immigration advocates struggled to get the mainstream media to pay attention to the growing share of the electorate represented by Latino, Asian American and new American voters, and how any political party that ignored—or alienated—these voters did so at their peril.

November 6, as the returns came in from the presidential election, that discussion was front and center. Every media outlet analyzing the votes as they came in remarked on the difficulty Republicans had, and will continue to have, unless they can broaden their appeal beyond a base of primarily white voters.

In the presidential race, Latinos, who in this election made up approximately 10 percent of the electorate, went for Obama by a margin of 71 to 27 percent. For Asians (making up three percent of the electorate), the margin was 73 to 26 percent. More than nine in ten (93%) African Americans voted for Obama.

Obama increased his lead among Latinos since 2008. In that year, Obama won 67 percent of the Latino vote, which then was nine percent of the electorate. (In 2004, John Kerry won 53 percent of the eight percent of the electorate that was Latino.)

For Asians, Obama’s 73 percent share was an 11 percent gain from 2008.

Meanwhile, the President lost ground with whites, winning only 39 percent of the vote, but these voters made up two percent less of the electorate than they did in 2008.

As Ron Brownstein of the National Journal noted,

With Romney’s defeat, the GOP … faces the reality that none of its presidential nominees since 1988 has exceeded 50.8 percent of the popular vote or 286 Electoral College votes. In essence, by failing to compete more effectively for the growing minority population, Republicans have lowered their ceiling in presidential politics, and left their nominees trying to thread a needle to reach a majority either in the popular or Electoral College vote.

And that needle has an eye that is shrinking.

For Latinos, in particular, the harsh rhetoric used by Republican politicians on the immigration issue helped Obama rack up large margins with that rapidly growing part of the electorate. That rhetoric appears not to be helping Republicans among non-Latinos; exit polling from this election showed that approximately two-thirds of all voters think that undocumented immigrants should be offered a chance to apply for legal status.

In the weeks ahead, Republicans will be evaluating their mistakes. We can expect the voices of those concerned about the party’s resistance to diversity to be stronger in the internal debates of the coming weeks. Those voices include luminaries such as Grover Norquist, who recently said that “immigration is the most important thing to focus on if you’re concerned about America as an economic power.” There are a growing number of traditionally conservative evangelical leaders who are calling for action on immigration reform. Business leaders, law enforcement and conservatives have been coming together to discuss the importance of immigration and how we might forge a consensus on immigration reform.

Although there is the growing realization that Republicans must broaden their tent, what we have in this election is pretty much the status quo. Republicans control the House. Democrats control the Senate, and Obama is in the White House. Will we see anything more than the gridlock that was the hallmark of the 112th Congress? It depends.

For Republicans, if more enlightened thinkers prevail in steering the direction of the party, there may be an opening for immigration reform. Republicans would be wise to deal with the immigration issue and get it off the table in order to increase their chances for attracting Latino and new American voters. As CNN’s David Gergen noted on election night, there is reason for optimism about immigration reform in the next Congress, because “Democrats want it and Republicans now need it.”

As for Democrats, the President, during the campaign, said that one of his greatest regrets was not accomplishing immigration reform, and on election night, in the speech he gave after Governor Romney conceded, the President stated his intention to tackle immigration reform.

[I]n the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together: reducing our deficit; reforming our tax code; fixing our immigration system; freeing ourselves from foreign oil.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on November 7 that bringing immigration reform to the floor next year is high on his list.

Little Shift in House, Senate
In the House, as of this writing, the Democrats had picked up three seats, and there were nine races still undecided. This leaves Republicans in control of the House.

In the Senate, Democrats picked up a net of one, while Republicans lost two. (Democrats Elizabeth Warren defeated incumbent Scott Brown in Massachusetts, and Joe Donnelly defeated Republican Richard Mourdock in Indiana, a Tea Party candidate who defeated the incumbent, Richard Lugar, in the primary. Republicans picked up a seat in Nebraska, where Deb Fischer defeated Democrat Bob Kerrey to replace retiring Democrat Ben Nelson. In Maine, Independent Angus King won his bid to replace retiring Republican Olympia Snowe. He has not said which party he will caucus with.)

It will take several weeks before Members of Congress sort out their committee assignments, but there will be changes in the leadership of several committees that have immigration within their jurisdiction. In the House, Lamar Smith, currently Chair of the Judiciary Committee, is at the end of a Republican party-imposed term limit for his chairmanship of that Committee. He may be replaced by Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-Virginia). Elton Gallegly, who was Chair of the Immigration Subcommittee this year, is retiring, leaving Steve King of Iowa, who narrowly won re-election, as a possible replacement. (However, his penchant for inflammatory rhetoric about immigration would pose problems for Republicans in light of the problems discussed above.) Peter King of New York reaches his term limit as Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee.

In the Senate, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut is retiring, and the Chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee will be filled by Thomas Carper of Delaware. On the Republican side, Susan Collins of Maine will be term-limited as the ranking member, and it is expected she will be replaced by Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

Lame Duck
In the meantime, Congress will be returning to Washington on November 13 to complete work on tax and spending legislation that will avoid automatic cuts to agency budgets and automatic tax increases popularly known as the “fiscal cliff.”

There may be little time to focus on immigration during the lame duck, but we may see another attempt at a bill to increase visas for persons with degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. In addition, reauthorizing legislation for the Violence Against Women Act has not yet been resolved, with House and Senate versions differing in their treatment of immigrant victims of domestic violence.

If there is no deal in Congress to increase revenue and cut spending, the New Year will bring automatic cuts to agency budgets across the board, and the budgets of the immigration agencies, including U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, will suffer large cuts.

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