Immigration reformers have their work cut out in the Senate and an uphill climb in the House, but it has not gone unnoticed that the anti-immigration reform forces are not as effective as they were in 2007.
Some of those people opposed to the Gang of Eight’s immigration-reform plan claim that the scandals plaguing the administration are a distraction, but several other things are in play: The pro-reformers are better organized and have better spokespeople than in 2007 (Sen. Marco Rubio carries more weight with the base than did Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in 2007); the immigration flow has actually reversed course; the shortage of high-tech workers has become more acute; and Republicans have lost two presidential races, doing poorly with Hispanic voters.
Moreover, the GOP itself has changed, though immigration opponents are loath to admit it (as they are on gay marriage). Libertarians who are generally pro-immigration reform are on the upswing in the party and have a leader in the form of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). And if polling is accurate, Republicans can live with a path to citizenship, under the conditions embodied in the Gang of Eight bill, in order to get border security. Therefore, the opponents are reduced to arguing that immigration is bad for the economy (which is neither conservative nor true) or that the border provisions aren’t good enough. The latter, Rubio, promises can be addressed.
Conventional wisdom favors inertia. (e.g. “Conservatives will always oppose immigration reform.”) But it is possible for individuals and a party as a whole to transform in response to conditions. Republicans were the green-eyeshade penny-pinchers before the Reagan supply side revolution. Democrats were internationalists until 1972. Evangelicals were always with the right in opposing immigration reform — until a large segment wasn’t.
This is why, in part, the assumption that the GOP can never win Hispanic voters is so wrong. People change and the country changes (as we saw with the eye-popping data on women as breadwinners). If parties don’t change, they die. And it is that fear of irrelevance that may be the best asset for Republican immigration reformers. I met recently with a Republican Hispanic leader who said, “If you care about the rest of the agenda — limited government, the life issue, the Supreme Court, taxes — then you better be for immigration reform.” What he meant was that the GOP can’t survive without changing on this issue and appealing to nonwhite voters. Honest Republicans actually in office or running for office know this as well, which is why, against all odds, immigration reform might pass.