By Roger Simon
There are two Rules of Holes in politics.
The first rule is well known: “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
The second rule is less well known: “When you stop digging, you are still in a hole.”
The Republican Party is now struggling with both rules when it comes to immigration.
The GOP would not even be considering immigration reform this year if the election of 2012 had not been so psychologically shattering to it.
Mitt Romney’s loss has sent the party reeling. You could come up with many reasons for the loss – a weak candidate chosen from a weak field, Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe (which was not really a gaffe, but what he truly believed) and a second-rate get-out-the-vote effort are at the top of my list.
But Romney found his own scapegoat: minorities. As Romney told fundraisers and donors shortly after Election Day 2012, Barack Obama had followed the “old playbook” of seeking votes from specific interest groups “especially the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people.”
In each case, Romney said, the Obama people “were very generous in what they gave to those groups.”
Obama, in Romney’s view, had won re-election by political bribery, pure and simple.
So maybe the Republicans could try some bribery of their own. Not with African-Americans. That would never work. And the young looked almost as unreachable.
But Hispanics! They were a prize worth going after. They are the fastest-growing minority group in America, holding 16 percent of the population. Of even greater interest to pols, the number of Hispanics registered to vote has increased by 26 percent in the last four years and numbered 12.2 million in the last election.
Romney got only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012, compared with John McCain’s 31 percent in 2008 and George W. Bush’s 44 percent in 2004. So clearly, the Republicans had to stop digging the hole.
And the way to do it was comprehensive immigration reform. Instead of opposing it, as many Republicans had done in the past, they now would embrace it.
But there is a huge danger. If you grant a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million Hispanics who entered this country illegally, you are probably going to enfranchise millions of new Democratic voters.
So the Republicans want immigration reform, but they want it to take place very, very slowly. This is so Republicans can win over Hispanics on social issues – opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, for example – a process that could take several years.
That’s why Republicans want the pathway to citizenship to be long and bumpy.
First, there will be a 10-year probationary period, in which the probationers will have to pay fines and any back taxes, learn English, be fingerprinted and clear criminal background checks. Then they will have to get a green card, after which a person typically has to wait five years before applying for citizenship.
So we may be talking about a 15-year trip down citizenship lane. Or longer. The Republicans are talking about “triggers,” which means there would be no path to citizenship unless certain goals are achieved.
One trigger might be a 100 percent apprehension rate on the border with Mexico, meaning everybody trying to cross illegally into the United States would have to be caught. A White House source told me such a trigger would be a “non-starter” with Democrats.
So there may be less of an immigration deal in existence than current headlines would have us believe. Not only are Republicans still thrashing out the issue, but a source told me that Democrats in the Senate are far from having the 60 votes necessary for a filibuster-proof bill. And nobody knows what the even more chaotic House will come up with.
So immigration reform is not just around the corner. Yet it is probably inevitable.
“There is no salvation for the Republican Party except for backing a path to citizenship for the 11 million,” a source close to the immigration negotiations told me. “The Republican demographic of older, white voters is shrinking, and they are losing the growing demographic of younger, non-white voters.”
The Republicans are not yet ready to climb out of their hole. They just have to stop digging it deeper.
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