Immigration Reform 2013: Once Again, Republicans Miss the Memo

If the demographic statistics from the 2012 elections weren’t frightening enough for Republicans (and they should have been), this week’s report by the College Republican National Committee should have done the trick.

The report, which evaluated the party’s performance among millennials, held grim news for the GOP, finding that the words independent millennials most associated with the party were “closed-minded,” “racist,” “rigid,” and “old-fashioned.” Going deeper, the report found that Republicans were painfully out of step with the next generation on social issues including marriage equality, abortion, environmental protection, and importantly for today, immigration reform.

On Thursday the House passed an amendment sponsored by Representative Steve King (R-Iowa), which would defund President Obama’s orders to the Department of Homeland Security to focus deportation efforts on illegal immigrants who have committed violent crimes (as opposed to children or college students, so-called “DREAMers”). The measure, which passed by a margin of 224-201 (only six Republicans voted against it), was met with a chorus of boos from around the House chamber as the final tally was announced.

Rep. King has argued in favor of the amendment by saying that the president does not have the right to create different classes of illegal immigrants who are exempt from the law, while other Republicans have called the president’s order tantamount to “administrative amnesty.”

Democrats, on the other hand, point to the Supreme Court ruling which acknowledged the right of the executive branch to prioritize cases, and the White House released a statement saying: “This amendment, sponsored by Representative Steve King, runs contrary to our most deeply-held values as Americans. It asks law enforcement to treat these DREAMers the same way as they would violent criminals. It’s wrong. It’s not who we are. And it will not become law.”

One day after it was announced that the Senate’s Gang of Eight had reached a tentative deal on a path towards citizenship as part of their comprehensive immigration-reform package, the question is what this House vote means for the survival of immigration reform more broadly.

While in the past it has been easy to write Rep. King off as an extreme outlier of the Republican Party (you may remember him as the one who once compared immigrants to dogs), on Thursday the Republican Party made a public show of support for the congressman and a public move even farther away from the millennial and Hispanic communities they have been so desperately trying to court.

To make the political miscalculation of such a move clear, remember that the millennial generation is the largest and most diverse cohort in American history, with 20% identifying as being of Hispanic or Latino origin. By 2016 they will represent 36% of eligible voters and by 2020, they will represent 40% of the American electorate.

But it seems that no matter how many times those numbers are repeated — even by the College Republican National Committee — Republicans insist on following the same base-appealing strategy that has now lost them two presidential elections, even as their base evaporates around them. 

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Natalie Smith

Originally from North Carolina, Natalie graduated from Duke University in 2012 with degrees in Political Science, History, and French. She now works at a pro-choice non-profit organization in Washington, D.C. My articles reflect my own views only.

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