President Obama’s re-election victory shows the road to the White House winds through Hispanic neighborhoods, but will Obama lead the way to immigration reform during his second term?
Championing reform would solidify Obama’s appeal among Latinos and set the stage for more Democratic victories in 2014. However, considering what’s at stake politically, it’s possible that Republicans will acknowledge their vulnerability on immigration and take a strong look at proposing reforms of their own.
Election returns show that the Latino vote has become a force to be reckoned with. Latinos made up 10 percent of the electorate and were essential to Obama’s win over Mitt Romney, who advocated the GOP’s hard-line stance on immigration. He paid the price for that mistake.
The Latino vote was a major change-maker, but how much will Obama champion reforms if doing so risks political capital — namely, the Democratic Party’s support from organized labor?
The president’s record on immigration is mixed, especially in view of the enormous number of deportations during his first term. In 2011 alone, the Obama administration deported 397,000 immigrants. The sum of Obama’s deportations is more than his predecessor, George Bush, who pushed Congress unsuccessfully for reforms in 2007.
Although Bush couldn’t get his reform proposals through Congress, Obama might have a better chance.
The mood among lawmakers could be shifting more in favor of reform, even among Republicans. Their party desperately needs to win friends among Latinos and other minorities. The GOP’s hard line on immigration is attractive to the party’s base, but it’s a deal killer if the party aims to connect with Latinos.
For Democrats, old guard labor unions could be a political roadblock. In 2007, the AFL-CIO was furious with Bush’s reform agenda. Obama and Democratic lawmakers will be looking for ways to appease big labor if they agree to attempt reforming the nation’s counterproductive immigration policies.
It is time for lawmakers on both sides to acknowledge that current laws leave the United States economically vulnerable. Reforms are needed so our nation can attract the world’s brightest scientists, engineers and researchers.
Additionally, the United States needs to ensure that the immigrants who fill so many positions — construction, janitorial, kitchen and agricultural laborers, to name a few — are able to continue working in the various service industries.
Latinos now comprise a powerful voting block, just as they also underpin major sectors of the economy.