Immigration Reform 2013: Why It Won't Lead to 11 Million New Democratic Voters

Reports indicate that immigration reform legislation, formulated by the "Gang of Eight" senators (four Democrats, four Republicans), will be introduced soon. It remains to be seen whether it will have enough support in Congress to ultimately become law.

But the thought is that Republicans will be more supportive of "comprehensive immigration reform" this time around, based on the notion that Republicans need to gain the support of Latinos and Hispanics to have any electoral future. And that support cannot be gained without legislation that grants illegal immigrants — many of who are Latino/Hispanic (and, yes, the term "illegal immigrant" is OK) — a pathway to legal residence and citizenship.

However, others worry that immigration reform will actually doom the GOP's electoral chances, because giving illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship will simply add to the rolls of Democratic voters. By this line of reasoning, maybe Republicans are better served by opposing immigration reform.

Naturally, there are a lot of other considerations that factor in to anyone — Republican or not — supporting immigration reform. But, I find it hard to believe that such reform will lead to Democratic supremacy in the following decades and generations.

Partly, this is because it looks like citizenship will only be granted very slowly to illegal immigrants. Details that have leaked out indicate that it will take about a decade for illegal immigrants to be awarded legal residence, and then another three years to become U.S. citizens. And that's assuming that they get past a variety of hurdles with respect to fines, back taxes, learning English, etc. So, they won't be voting Democratic until 2026 at the earliest.

But, more importantly, the easiest thing to change (believe it or not) is a person's mind. And events over the next decade or two are going provide any number of reasons for people to change their political allegiance.

In particular, the federal budget is going to face big problems as more Baby Boomers retire and Social Security and Medicare take up a larger share of federal spending (the two programs currently take up a third of the budget). Revenues aren't going to be able to cover this increase in spending, and there is no plan in the works to avoid larger deficits. This is the "can" that our politicians keep kicking down the road.

As illegal immigrants (Latino, Hispanic, or otherwise) become legal, taxpaying residents (and citizens), this becomes their can, too. Our deficits become their deficits, and our increasing tax rates will become their increasing tax rates. Because, 10 or 20 years from now, Democrats will likely still be reluctant to dial back spending on "entitlements," and will again suggest raising taxes. But taxing the wealthy won't be enough to fix the deficits, so they'll have to suggest raising taxes on the middle-class, too. At that point, lots of people — many of them former illegal immigrants — will wonder whether it makes sense to vote for Democrats.

I'm not saying immigration reform won't benefit the Democratic Party. But it won't put them into a position of political supremacy, because the Democratic Party simply does not have a workable solution to the coming debt problem.

So, this recent talk of political supremacy is misguided. Remember that the 2004 election had Democrats in the morgue, while the 2006 and 2008 elections did the same to Republicans, only to have them catch a second wind in 2010. We're very closely divided right now, and "supremacy" has been elusive at best.

Between now and 2026 there will be any number of issues — some perennial, some a surprise — that will shape the electorate. Who knows? Maybe the Democrats will be the ones to change their minds and become fiscally conservative. I won't hold my breath on that one. But I'm fairly certain that fiscal problems are going to pose a far bigger dilemma to Democrats than immigration reform does to the GOP.

So, while I'm not crazy about the Gang of Eight's proposal, we can rest assured that the "Democratic supremacy" concern is unfounded.