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Immigration Reform and Its Political Realities 

Peter Lefkin 



Peter Lefkin, head of government and external affairs at Allianz of America, takes an in-depth look at proposed immigration amnesty, where Democrats and Republicans stand on the issue and how it will shape the political landscape  in 2013 and beyond.

Key Takeaways

Immigration is a hot-button issue that reminds us of an age-old lesson: offending an emerging voter demographic can have disastrous results
Democrats and Republicans both agree that the current immigration law is woefully inadequate; this bodes well for compromise on Capitol Hill
Hispanic and Asian voters are the fastest growing segment of the US electorate, making it imperative that Republicans act on immigration reform or risk never regaining the presidency
Democrats generally favor a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants arguing that it would boost economic growth and the labor market in the long run. But labor organizations say that immigration amnesty for illegal residents could depress wages for the rest of the workforce
Republicans stress border security and argue that providing a path to legal status undermines the integrity of law, rewarding those who broke it at the expense of those who came to this country legally

In politics, perception is reality. And it’s no different today than it was more than a century ago.

Just a few days before the 1884 presidential election, Republican candidate James Blaine attended a meeting in New York City where Presbyterian minister Samuel Burchard delivered an infamous speech. Reverend Burchard assailed the Democratic party as the providence of “rum, Romanism and rebellion.” Burchard’s fiery rhetoric was an attempt to saddle the Democrats with being on the wrong side of the most sensitive issues of the times: prohibition, Catholicism, the Civil War and the assassination of President Lincoln. It was also meant to demean the large, emerging Irish-Catholic population that had settled in New York, Boston and Philadelphia.

Naturally, Irish Catholics in New York took offense. And Blaine did nothing to distance himself from Burchard’s slurs. What followed was somewhat predictable. Catholic priests made the speech the focal point of their Sunday sermons a few days before the election. Blaine lost New York, a swing state with 36 electoral votes, by 1,149 ballots. And Grover Cleveland became the first Democrat to win the presidency since James Buchanan in 1856. The collateral damage from this defeat lasted another 80 years: The rapidly growing Catholic population—which came to comprise about 25% of the electorate—remained solidly Democratic until the 1970s.

The political lesson of Blaine’s loss—offending emerging political groups can have disastrous results—remains true today. Look at immigration reform. Politics and policy are driving the current debate. Democrats, feeling the political wind at their back, are anxious to move the issue ahead knowing that the Hispanic population is a rapidly emerging—and pivotal—voting bloc that could propel their nominee to the White House. During the past two Presidential elections, Hispanics, who supported former President George W. Bush with nearly 45% voting for him, have shifted away from the Republicans, with 71% supporting President Obama in 2012. What steered them away from the Republicans was the perception that the GOP was anti-immigrant, something that the Republicans would argue is a mischaracterization.

Similarly, Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) got off on the wrong foot in the 2012 presidential election when he advocated voluntary self-deportation for illegal immigrants and criticized Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) for allowing the children of undocumented immigrants to receive scholarships to attend state universities. Despite his campaign efforts to show compassion on issues that impact Hispanic voters, Romney never recovered from that miscue.

Immigration Reform and Its Political Realities
Immigration Reform on the Radar
Minorities No More
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