The sudden openness of Republican leaders to an overhaul of immigration laws — including a path to either legal residency or citizenship for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. — stems from another “drubbing” at the polls.
With 71 percent of Hispanic voters casting their ballots for President Barack Obama in November, the Republican Party is hungry for inroads with an electorate who, according to surveys, find little identification with the party — just 22 percent of Hispanics identify themselves as Republican.
And as the debate gets underway on Capitol Hill this Spring, it’s worth remembering what Paul Taylor and fellow researchers at the Pew Research Center told us after November’s election:
By the numbers, the Pew Hispanic Center has found this in Census data, Election Day exit polling and its own national survey of Hispanic immigrants:
— The nation’s 53 million Hispanics comprise 17 percent of the total U.S. population but just 10 percent of all voters last year. “To borrow a boxing metaphor, they still ‘punch below their weight.”’
— Their median age is 27 years—and just 18 years among native-born Hispanics—compared with 42 years for that of white non-Hispanics. In the coming decades, their share of the age-eligible electorate will rise markedly through generational replacement alone.
— Hispanics will account for 40 percent of the growth in the eligible electorate in the U.S. between now and 2030, at which time 40 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote, up from 23.7 million now.
— If 10 percent of all voters last year were Hispanic, it would mean that as many as 12.5 million Hispanics cast ballots. So what about the 40 million who did not vote or were not eligible to vote?
— 11.2 million are adults who were eligible to vote but chose not to.
— 5.4 million are adult legal permanent residents who could not vote because they have not yet become naturalized U.S. citizens. “The naturalization rate among legal immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean trails that of other legal immigrants by a sizable margin—49 percent versus 72 percent — according to a Pew Hispanic analysis of the 2011 March Current Population Survey. The new Pew Hispanic survey finds that a major reason Hispanic immigrants naturalize is to gain civil and legal rights, including the right to vote. ”
— 17.6 million are under the age of 18. The vast majority (93 percent) of Latino youths are U.S-born citizens and thus will automatically become eligible to vote once they turn 18. Today, some 800,000 Latinos turn 18 each year. By 2030, this could grow to 1 million a year, adding a potential electorate of more than 16 million new Latino voters by 2030.
— Nine in 10 Hispanic immigrants who have not yet naturalized say they would if they could.
— 7.1 million are adult unauthorized immigrants and would become eligible to vote only if Congress were to pass a law creating a pathway to citizenship for them.
The analysis following the election by Taylor and colleagues at Pew also noted this: “Judging by the immediate post-election comments of leading Democratic and Republican lawmakers, the long-dormant prospects for passage of such legislation appear to have been revived by Latinos’ strong showing at the polls.”
A report this week from Republicans performing an autopsy on the 2012 election concluded that the party must “embrace and champion comprehensive” changes in the immigration laws. “If we do not, our party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only,” it says. “Comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.”
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a champion of the Tea Party, plans to take a stand for citizenship today, in an address to the Hispanic Chamber of Congress. It’ll be noteworthy to see how many of his followers “Stand with Rand” on this one.
While the poor performance of the Republican Party at the polls last fall has generated great interest in finding a way to connect with more Hispanics by 2016 and beyond, which is likely to make more Hispanics eligible to vote — many more by 2030 — as things stand today, he dynamic poses another problem for the Republican Party, helping explain some of the wariness underlying the debate underway.