Why immigration reform won't solve the GOP's huge problem with minorities

The Week
Pro-immigration reform protesters demonstrate in front of the White House on Nov. 8.
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Pro-immigration reform protesters demonstrate in front of the White House on Nov. 8.

In the wake of Mitt Romney's defeat, many Republicans are embracing immigration reform. But the GOP's minority problem runs deeper than a single issue

As the GOP picks up the pieces from a shattering election defeat, one clear lesson has emerged: The party must win over Latinos, a fast-growing demographic that swung heavily toward President Obama. Latinos were turned off by the GOP's hardline stance on illegal immigration, with Mitt Romney promising a strict enforcement policy that would encourage Latinos to "self-deport" and rejecting a Democratic proposal to provide a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants. As a result, party elders are now falling over themselves to urge the GOP to compromise with Democrats on an immigration reform package. Even strident voices in the conservative infotainment circus, such as Sean Hannity, have suddenly dropped their previous objections to giving immigrants "amnesty." 

However, even a comprehensive immigration reform package may not solve the GOP's minority problem, says Francis Wilkinson at Bloomberg

For a little perspective, consider the votes of another minority — Asians. Romney won among all voters making more than $100,000 a year by a margin of 54-44. Asian-Americans happen to be the highest-earning group in the U.S., out-earning whites, and they generally place enormous emphasis on family. A perfect fit for Republicans, no?

No. Asians voted for Obama by 73-26; they were more Democratic than Hispanics.

Of course, Asians may have been just as disgusted as Latinos were by the GOP's immigration rhetoric. "The party's position on immigration is off-putting to many ethnic and racial groups," says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post, "because it reflects, they believe, a GOP that doesn't want them and doesn't want a diverse society." Combine that with the GOP's heavy emphasis on Christian values, and Republicans come off as "overwhelmingly white and insistently, at times militantly, Christian," says Wilkinson, whereas Democrats are "multiracial with a laissez faire attitude toward religion and spirituality." 

Perhaps even more importantly, the GOP's economic message is not getting through to Latinos either, says Ramesh Ponnuru at Bloomberg:

Even if a solution [to illegal immigration] were found, though, the growing number of Hispanic voters would continue to mean trouble for Republicans. Hispanics are disproportionately poor and uninsured. And like people of other races in similar situations, they tend to have views on economic policy that align with the Democrats. In California, for example, Hispanics helped get Democratic Governor Jerry Brown’s tax increases approved on Election Day. A Republican Party that is associated with repealing Obama’s health-care legislation — and not with any alternative plan to get people health insurance — is going to get trounced among these voters.

In other words, minorities may be rejecting the GOP's entire vision of American government, which lays so much stress on the battle between the individual and big government, says David Brooks at The New York Times:

The Pew Research Center does excellent research on Asian-American and Hispanic values. Two findings jump out. First, people in these groups have an awesome commitment to work. By most measures, members of these groups value industriousness more than whites.

Second, they are also tremendously appreciative of government. In survey after survey, they embrace the idea that some government programs can incite hard work, not undermine it; enhance opportunity, not crush it.

Moreover, when they look at the things that undermine the work ethic and threaten their chances to succeed, it’s often not government. It’s a modern economy in which you can work more productively, but your wages still don’t rise. It’s a bloated financial sector that just sent the world into turmoil. It’s a university system that is indispensable but unaffordable. It’s chaotic neighborhoods that can’t be cured by withdrawing government programs.

For these people, the Republican equation is irrelevant. 

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