Last Friday, after months of foot-dragging and increasingly bizarre explanations to justify their inaction, Republican congressional leaders finally allowed legislation addressing immigration policy to be brought to the House floor for consideration. For those holding out hope that the House would act on comprehensive immigration reform before slinking away for a five-week recess, Friday night’s back-to-back votes were a huge step backwards.
The first bill, HR 5230, appropriates $694 million – less than 20% of the funding requested by President Obama – to address the humanitarian crises along the U.S.-Mexico border. The legislation also expedites the deportation of unaccompanied Central American children, and reimburses Texas $35 million for costs associated with Governor Rick Perry’s decision to deploy Texas National Guard troops to the border.
The second measure, HR 5272, effectively eliminates the Department of Homeland Security’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created by executive authority in June of 2012. DACA allows for prosecutorial discretion towards children who immigrated to the United States without authorization and creates a process by which these individuals can obtain work permits for two years. By not allowing these work permits to be renewed, HR 5272 subjects the more than 700,000 people enrolled in DACA to deportation.
To be clear, because neither bill has any chance of becoming law, the House Republicans’ actions were purely symbolic, but not without consequence. In terms of the internal divisions within the GOP, party elders and their allies in the business and faith communities who have been advocating for moderation on immigration and increased outreach to Latinos clearly lost.
Instead of opting for pragmatism, the party’s congressional leadership allowed hardliners, whose “solutions” to a multi-faceted and complex policy begin and end with increased border security and more deportations, to carry the day. Thus, Friday’s votes effectively define the party’s immigration position well to the right of mainstream public opinion and further cement the Republicans’ culpability for derailing the best prospects for comprehensive immigration reform in nearly a decade.
The unwillingness of House Republicans to address immigration reform in any meaningful manner also creates further impetus for President Obama to “go big” and use his executive authority to develop some constructive policies to address an issue of great import to constituencies that are central to both parties’ electoral coalitions. As we have argued before, among Latino voters whose political behavior is most animated by immigration, there is little downside for the president to use executive action in this manner. Specifically, polling conducted by Latino Decisions makes clear that the behavior of House Republicans coupled with potential executive action on immigration are likely to motivate increased Latino turnout and support for Democratic candidates in November.
With this in mind, the data presented in Tables 1 and 2 summarize the demographic and political characteristics for Republican and Democratic House held tier one and tier two Latino influence districts (districts that were competitive in 2012 and with significant 2010 Latino voting age populations (VAP)). The tables also report how the members presently representing these districts voted on HR 5230 and HR 5272.
Tables 1 and 2 make clear among this subset of House members, both votes were essentially party line. For HR 5230 all of the tier one and tier Republicans who voted, supported the legislation, while all voting tier one and tier two Democrats did not. For HR 5272, three Republicans, California’s Jeff Denham, Colorado’s Mike Coffman, and Joe Heck of Nevada, all of whom represent tier one Latino influence districts, broke with their party to vote no (eight other House Republicans, many representing tier three Latino influence districts, also voted no). All tier one and tier Democrats voted against HR 5272, as did all but four House Democrats.
In the near term, the Democrats’ inability to recruit and fund quality challengers in many of the tier one and tier two Republican held House districts means that many Republicans who voted for HR 5230 and HR 5272 are unlikely to be hurt by their votes in November. In contrast, vulnerable House Democrats representing Latino influence districts should see a boost in their support among Latino voters particularly if President Obama uses executive action to address immigration policy between now and November. This, in turn, may allow some of these incumbents to eke out wins despite the unfavorable political environment facing their party.
Beyond these district specific calculations and their implications for the 2014 elections, one point is clear. Last Friday’s actions send yet another powerful signal to fast growing immigrant rich communities: there is no place for them or their families in today’s Republican Party.
David Damore is a senior analyst at Latino Decisions, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and a Senior Nonresident Fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program.