What the election means for immigration

By Chris Liu-Beers, NC Policy Watch

Thankfully the election is over and the American people can look forward to their leaders governing for a season before returning to full-scale re-election mode. While the economy continues to dominate headlines in both the business and politics sections of the paper, one of the most pressing issues facing the 113th Congress is comprehensive immigration reform. Election night demonstrated the growing power of Latino voters and the renewed demand for results on immigration policy.

One of the most decisive factors in President Barack Obama's reelection last Tuesday night was the broad support of Latino voters across the nation. A full 10 percent of the electorate in 2012 was Hispanic, and of those 71 percent voted for President Obama. Governor Mitt Romney managed to earn only 27 percent of the Latino vote.

Gary Segura, professor of American Politics and chair of Chicano/a Studies at Stanford University and principal at Latino Decisions, notes that "The most historic thing in this election is that for the first time in history, the share of the national popular vote margin is smaller than the Latino vote margin. That means that if Latinos had evenly divided their vote between both candidates, the outcomes would be reversed."

"This is a defining moment for the Republican Party," said GOP strategist Leslie Sanchez. "If Republicans don't heed this warning, we are certainly in danger of becoming politically irrelevant at a national level."

According to Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions, the Republican Party "will be doomed if they lose black and Latino votes by these same margins in the future."

If the Republican Party is serious about expanding beyond its aging white base, it needs to do more than highlight a few token Latino (and African-American) candidates. It needs to adopt sensible, moderate positions on the issues that matter most to these new constituencies. Just a couple short election cycles ago, comprehensive immigration reform was a bipartisan issue, with moderates on both sides of the aisle agreeing on key basic principles. Since then, anti-immigrant crusaders have hijacked the party platform and steered it far to the right. It is up to the party leadership to return to the middle and to work with Democrats to pass meaningful reform. If they don't, they will alienate an entire generation of Latinos, and they will face the consequences at the polls for decades.

Here in North Carolina, Latinos comprise about 2.9 percent of the electorate -- a small percentage overall but a number that is growing rapidly. In fact, the Latino vote has grown by 117 percent in N.C. from 2000 to 2010, compared to 52 percent nationally. In 2012 nearly three out of four North Carolina Latinos voted for President Obama, and while Governor Romney carried N.C., his margin of victory was smaller than many people predicted in part because of strong Latino turnout.

In the weeks and months ahead, North Carolina will again see immigration policy taken up at the state level. Will our elected officials ignore all manner of economic data and business sense in taking us down the losing path blazed by Arizona and Alabama, or will they refuse to let the ideological zealotry of a few right-wingers dominate decisions that will have far reaching implications for the future competitiveness of our state? We have seen other Southern neighbors try the "attrition through enforcement" model, and they are already reaping the consequences and in some cases, publicly regretting their actions. A far better approach would be to build our communities through immigrant integration.

The N.C. Council of Churches believes that we should implement humane comprehensive immigration reform because it is, simply, the right thing to do. Our Scriptures call us to treat our new neighbors with respect, dignity and love -- something we can't do when families are being ripped apart and workers live in the shadows.

Yet we are also realists, and we know that politics is usually dominated by the twin gods of the bottom-line: money and votes. So to every elected official in North Carolina, Republican and Democrat, from the state house in Raleigh to the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C.: If you won't support comprehensive immigration reform because it's the right thing to do, at least support it because there is no future for our state or for your political party without Latinos and the children of immigrants from across the world.

Chris Liu-Beers is a program associate at the N.C. Council of Churches.