Immigration Reform, or How the GOP Can Screw Up Its 2016

Immigration reform is the single most important issue for Latino voters. Republicans who oppose it are having trouble accepting that reality.
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Reuters

This.

This is how the Republican Party can cancel out any progress against Democrats it is making with the Summer of Scandal and guarantee itself a loss in 2016 and a smaller advantage in 2014 than it might otherwise have had.

House Republicans walking away from comprehensive immigration reform. Tying a path to citizenship to continued second-class standing on access to health insurance. Voting to resume deporting undocumented immigrants brought here as children, a year after President Obama issued an executive order instructing the Department of Homeland Security to use discretion and make such deportations a low priority.

Don't take it from me -- take it from the Republican National Committee, which in March issued an autopsy of Mitt Romney's loss and the party's 2012 failure to gain seats in the House or Senate.

"If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States ... they will not pay attention to our next sentence," the "Growth and Opportunity Project" report, the result of months of study, asserted. "It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies."

The establishment Republicans called for the party to back immigration reform as the way to start winning again. "Among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform," it said. "If we do not, our Party's appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only.... Hispanic voters tell us our Party's position on immigration has become a litmus test, measuring whether we are meeting them with a welcome mat or a closed door."

Or listen to the College Republican National Committee, which just issued a report on retooling the "Grand Old Party for a Brand New Generation."

"The issue of the Republican Party's challenges with the youth vote and the party's challenges with non-white voters are inseparable," the report said. "The immigration debate may set up a 'gateway issue.' For voters who are undecided but have a connection to communities affected by immigration policy, the issue can certainly turn voters away."

Support for the exact sort of measures House Republicans rejected today would be key, the young Republicans wrote:

On the issue of laws that "would allow illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status if they join the military or go to college," three out of four (75.3%) young adults agreed in an October 2012 poll conducted by CIRCLE. And young voters for the most part knew how the candidates in the election stood on that issue; in that same survey, 63% of respondents said that Barack Obama was the candidate who supported "allowing many illegal or undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to remain in the country," while only 3% said that was Mitt Romney's position.

Or listen to Karl Rove, who on Thursday warned in the Wall Street Journal, "Immigration reform is now a gateway issue: Many Hispanics won't be open to Republicans until it is resolved, which could take the rest of the year. But there is little doubt next week's Senate deliberations will shape for some time to come the Hispanic community's perceptions of the GOP."

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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