Is the GOP Backing Away from Immigration Reform?

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It was believed that immigration reform would be one of the biggest priorities for the Republican Party after losing the presidential election — and the Latino vote — in last year’s elections, but it appears that a slightly modified rhetoric is the only change to show at this time, the Los Angeles Times reports.

After the election, a memo from a Republican-aligned advocacy group, the Hispanic Leadership Network, outlined some fairly obvious suggestions to GOP members. ”Don’t use the term ‘anchor baby’ or phrases like ‘send them all back’,” the memo said. ”Do acknowledge that ‘our current immigration system is broken and we need to fix it.’”

While House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) maintains that immigration reform is still an important subject for Republicans, it appears that the 2014 midterm elections are playing a large role in the lack of momentum for the topic. With conservatives pushing for hard-right voters in 2014, the Republican Party believes that the two years between midterm elections and the 2016 election is enough time to successfully woo Latino voters.

Additionally, the only immigration-based action by the party has been a measure to defund an Obama administration program to defer deportations of young Latinos, the LA Times reports. Though the measure failed to become law, it increased Latino resentment towards the party and raised questions as to whether rhetoric would be the only change after promises of policy shifts. And with the GOP aiming to become more inclusive to other minorities as well, including women and homosexuals, its lack of success has led many to question whether the party can successfully broaden its appeal.

“On the one hand, Republicans have improved their rhetoric and they’ve moved much more toward embracing immigration reform,” said Alex Nowrasteh, a policy analyst at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute. “On the other hand, immigration reform was passed in the Senate and was dropped in the House of Representatives, and that makes them look like they’re opposed to reform, which in a way, they are.”

If Republicans hope to sway Latino voters, they’re going to have to find a way to come off as much more sincere in their efforts for immigration reform, otherwise they risk seeing a repeat of last year’s presidential election. In 2012, Mitt Romney lost the Latino vote by a whopping 44 percent margin, making it the largest Republican deficit since the Clinton era, while angering immigration advocates with comments about “self-deportation.”

The results of the 2012 election spurred Boehner to announce that Congress needed to act on a bi-partisan immigration overhaul, but the speaker has consistently rejected the senate’s sweeping overhaul of laws for a piece by piece approach. The LA Times reports that House GOP leaders have been working behind the scenes on a series of bills that would be brought forward next year, after the results of the midterm elections. Altogether, the series of bills would equal the sweeping changes of the Senate overhaul.

According to the LA Times, the bills include one which would provide a way for young people brought to the U.S. illegally as minors to become citizens while another would allow adult immigrants to apply for legal status. President Obama has been supportive of the House GOP’s approach in the early goings, using a Thanksgiving analogy last Monday to explain his stance.

“It’s Thanksgiving; we can carve that bird into multiple pieces,” Obama said. ”A drumstick here, breast meat there. But as long as all the pieces get done — soon — and we actually deliver on the core values we’ve been talking about for so long, I think everybody is fine with it.”

But that doesn’t mean that all House Republicans are supportive of piecemeal-style immigration reform, as some GOP members would rather use the months leading into midterm elections to focus on problems with the healthcare law. The LA Times also points out that changes in party rhetoric haven’t exactly been consistent, with Don Young (R-Alaska) using a racial slur to describe migrant workers who once worked on his family farm in California and Steve King (R-Iowa) saying that some young immigrants had ”calves the size of cantaloupes” from carrying drugs across the border.

While there’s no doubt that the Republican Party finds itself walking a fine-line between becoming more inclusive to minority voters while pleasing conservative voters, if last year’s presidential election is any indication, the GOP needs to firmly commit to a strategy or risk continuing to lose voters. Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, stated, “Boehner, if he kills off immigration reform, will be remembered as the speaker who killed the GOP.”

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