In reiterating his vision for immigration reform today — a vision essentially identical to his predecessor’s — President Obama spoke truth to power, the power in this case being congressional Republicans.
The president’s speech in El Paso isn’t likely to make any difference to Republicans, who can and will continue to block any serious overhaul of immigration policy, which is to say anything that solves the problem of 11 million undocumented immigrants. But it may make plenty of difference to Hispanics, the nation’s biggest and fastest-growing minority, in reminding them who’s got their backs.
For the president, and for Democrats generally, that’s a massively helpful and timely reminder. It’s a virtual certainty that no Republican who even hints at eventual citizenship for illegal immigrants (read: amnesty) can win the GOP nomination for president next year. So while Hispanic voters watch Republicans brawl in primaries over who would be truly the meanest Deporter in Chief, the president can sit back and buy ads on Univision, reprising his El Paso speech. Translation: Who loves ya, baby?
Obama won two-thirds of the Hispanic vote in 2008, a crushing majority that helped him to big wins in Nevada, Colorado, Florida and New Mexico. Since then, Republicans at the national, state and local level have been busy spoiling their brand with Hispanic voters for a generation by bashing undocumented immigrants, who are thoroughly interwoven with legal immigrants — in other words, real live voters. In 2012, I wouldn’t be surprised if Obama wins 70 to 75 percent of the Hispanic vote.
Republican pig-headedness on immigration is long-term gold for Democrats. More than a fifth of the students in American K-12 schools are Hispanic, and that percentage is growing fast. By the 2020 presidential election, half a dozen states are going to be more or less decided on the basis of Latino votes; by 2028, it could be a dozen.
The president could sit back and reap the electoral fruit of Republican immigrant-bashing in 2012. By standing up and delivering speeches like the one in El Paso, he ensures a bumper crop of Hispanic votes.