The political battle over the influx of young migrants into South Texas continues to rage, with the White House announcing today that it is seeking $3.7 billion in new funds to expedite removals of new arrivals. As I have argued, expediting removals is probably the right policy call, provided the process remains humane and legally sound. If not, it could prove politically and substantively disastrous.

However, the ongoing crisis has also locked the GOP into a position that could arguably result in even more damage to the party among Latinos in the 2016 presidential race than it suffered in 2012.

Here’s something to keep an eye on as a preliminary test of that proposition: The Colorado Senate race. This is perhaps the one top race in the country where immigration actually could be an important issue this cycle.

In coming days, I’m told, immigration advocates will ratchet up their focus on GOP Rep. Cory Gardner, the candidate trying to unseat Colorado Senator Mark Udall. Advocates will try to get local media to press Gardner to answer a specific question: Do you agree with Republicans who say we should respond to the current migrant crisis by ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which deferred deportation of the DREAMers?

The current crisis at the border has forced the actual Republican position on immigration out into the open. For months, Republicans blamed their own legislative inaction on Obama’s refusal to “enforce the law,” but when asked whether that meant they wanted more deportations from the interior, including of the DREAMers, they refused to answer directly. Now, however, Republicans are explicitly claiming DACA has caused the current crisis, by creating a promise of “amnesty” for children, which has led them into directly calling for an end to DACA. That is functionally a call for deportation of the DREAMers.

Meanwhile, as Brian Beutler explains, the planned GOP lawsuit against Obama — if it names DACA as an offense — could further lock Republicans into a position of supporting maximum deportations.

Here’s where Cory Gardner comes in.

In Colorado, the Latino vote can help decide statewide races, and Democrats there have been hitting Gardner for failing to say whether he supports citizenship for the 11 million here illegally. Gardner has responded by arguing that he supports legalization for those who serve in the military, which suggests he sees the issue as problematic for him. Dems have countered by noting that Gardner voted for a 2013 Steve King amendment that would have ended Obama’s ability to deprioritize deportation of the DREAMers.

Now the current crisis allows Dems to renew criticism of that vote — and jam him on it further. When Gardner voted for the King amendment, he wasn’t a statewide candidate, and the vote was largely a sop to the right. But now many Republicans are renewing the case for ending DACA as their preferred policy response to an active, ongoing crisis. And Gardner is now a statewide candidate who would represent many Latinos.

“Gardner’s votes against DACA were a slap in the face to the Latino and immigrant communities in Colorado,” Patty Kupfer, managing director of America’s Voice, tells me. “Now we’re going to be pressing Gardner to clarify: Does he support his Republican colleagues in calling for an end to DACA and the deportation of DREAMers? If so, it’s not going to go over well with the fastest growing group of voters in Colorado. The current crisis raises the question: Does he stand up for immigrant communities in Colorado?”

Immigration advocates are also planning to escalate events that push this point. Gardner will probably try to fudge his answer, but the current crisis should make that hard, particularly if the local media presses the question, too.

Craig Hughes, who managed the victorious 2010 campaign of Colorado Senator Michael Bennet — also in a midterm election — says this line of argument could help influence the outcome in 2014. He said Bennet attacked GOP candidate Ken Buck for opposing immigration reform and participating in deportation proceedings as a district attorney “as a motivating factor for the Latino vote, increasing the share of the turnout Bennet received.”

“The Latino vote was 10 percent of the electorate and we won by two percent,” Hughes told me. “Once again this could be the demographic group that puts the Democrat over the edge. There’s a lot of sympathy for the DREAMers in Colorado. Gardner’s voting on the DREAMers put him very far outside the mainstream, and the current crisis could put him on record as supporting deportation of the DREAMers.”

This has ramifications for 2016. Colorado is a key swing state where the Latino share of the vote is increasingly pivotal, and this could provide a hint of what’s to come not just in the presidential race, but in 2016 Senate races, too. The Latino share of the vote is set to rise in many swing states, ones that matter to the 2016 presidental and Senate maps alike.  And Colorado is the first such state where the current GOP posture on immigration — given that previous talk about using the issue to repair the party’s Latino problem is now officially dead — could be put to the test.

 

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.