Watching news coverage of the 2012 presidential election, it seemed there was one particular group political pundits could not stop talking about: Latino voters.
Latino support for President Barack Obama was overwhelmingly evident as he captured 71 percent of the Latino vote as opposed to Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s 27 percent. Perhaps more important than the overall numbers, though, is the fact that Latino voters have been credited with helping Obama secure a second term by providing him key victories in swing states such as Nevada and Colorado.
Recognizing the growing presence and importance of Latino voters, two things are clear: Obama must deliver on an immigration reform plan in his second term, and it is in the best interest of the GOP to reach across the aisle to the president and Congressional Democrats to do so.
Politicians make and break promises all the time, and Obama is no exception. During his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama promised that he would enact an immigration reform policy during his first term in office. Though he signed an executive order in June that provides two-year work permits to people who entered the U.S. illegally as children and meet certain criteria, this was far from the sweeping immigration reform Latino voters hoped for.
Latino voters might have forgiven Obama for failing to make significant improvements to the U.S. immigration policy during his first term in office, but they will not be so easy to forgive the Democratic Party if he fails to do so the second time around. The Latino vote will only become more coveted as time passes, and Republicans will be quick to remind voters of any Democratic shortcomings.
Though Obama and Congressional Democrats are partially responsible for the lack of immigration reform, the GOP’s unwavering anti-immigration stance is accountable for the problem as well. Throughout the 2012 presidential campaign, Romney, perhaps in an effort to woo white male voters, consistently reaffirmed his anti-immigration stance — at the expense of the Latino vote. Feeling alienated and ostracized, many Latinos shifted their support to the Democratic Party. This was especially the case with the historically Republican Cuban-American demographic: According to the Los Angeles Times, Obama and Romney tied for Cuban-American votes in Florida -— and the final vote in Florida ended in favor of Obama, 49-47.
Many GOP members themselves regret not having done enough to court Latino voters. “We have a Latino problem that just cost us a national election,” GOP strategist Mike Murphy told Politico.
Simply put, if Republicans in Congress continue to block immigration reform plans, the party’s problem of resonating with Latino voters will only persist.
Clearly, it is in the best interest of Democrats and Republicans to make immigration reform a top legislative priority. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has acknowledged the urgency and importance of immigration reform, saying he would introduce immigration legislation next year.There are signs of hope that such legislation could be passed: “I’m confident that the president, myself, others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all,” Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) recently told ABC News.
Compromise between the president, Democrats and Republicans is vital to immigration reform. Though Latinos do not expect complete amnesty for illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States, a viable pathway to citizenship is necessary. The DREAM Act would be a reasonable start for immigration reform, as it would provide law-abiding, undocumented youth with a six-year-long pathway to citizenship if they attain a college degree or serve in the armed forces for two years.
Beyond the DREAM Act, special efforts must also be made to keep families intact. Empathy, and to some extent sympathy, must be displayed in immigration reform plan. After all, it is unreasonable to expect a 14-year-old U.S.-born citizen to stay in the country where he or she was raised while his or her father and mother are deported.
With the 2012 election over, Obama and Democrats owe it to Latino voters to act on immigration reform promptly. But doing so will require cooperation from Republicans, who must see how softening their stance on immigration and working adamantly to pass a satisfactory reform bill will give them returns from voters in the future.
It’s all a process to adjust to a changing electorate, one in which the Latino vote is not only helpful but necessary. Politicians be warned: Latino voters recognize their increasing political power and will be watching both parties closely.
Jessica Garcia is a senior majoring in social science with an emphasis on economics.