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GOP stuck on immigration

Latinos overwhelmingly support President Obama over presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney. That much is incontrovertible. A Latino Decisions poll from early last week found that Obama led with this key demographic 66-23. 

Yet there has been some underlying weakness in those numbers. It’s not so much that Romney could make a play for that vote — his immigration stance during the primaries pretty much sank that possibility. Rather, Obama had to deal with a great deal of resentment over his administration’s deportation record — worse than that of George W. Bush. It would do the president no good if Latinos preferred him over Romney yet didn’t bother trekking to the polls to vote for him.

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Last week, Obama took a big step toward ramping up that support. Bypassing an ineffective and obstructionist Congress, the administration will halt deportations of children of undocumented immigrants so long as they were brought into the United States under the age of 16; are not older than 30; have completed high school, earned a GED or served in the military; and have a clean criminal record. 

The nativist right has screamed bloody murder, of course, but the response has been more muted from mainstream Republicans. Romney himself has been stunned into silence, unable or unwilling to stake out a clear position on the matter. His cowardice is almost understandable — he doesn’t have much Latino support left to bleed, but he doesn’t want to further energize them against him. 

The latest Daily Kos/SEIU numbers from Public Policy Polling certainly show movement in the president’s direction. A week ago, Obama won Latinos 53-32, with 15 percent undecided. This week’s poll, conducted over the weekend, shows that Obama now leads 61-32. (John McCain won 31 percent of the Latino vote in 2008.) 

But there’s more behind Romney’s silence than the important role of the Latino electorate in key battleground states. The fact is, the American people are simply not all that hostile toward immigration. 

Fresh polling from Gallup shows that 66 percent of Americans view immigration as a “good thing,” compared to 59 percent last year. Just 29 percent see it as a “bad thing,” compared to 37 percent a year ago. Even among Republicans, 62 percent view immigration positively. 

Meanwhile, for the first time since Gallup started asking the question six years ago, Americans want their government to focus more on dealing with undocumented immigrants inside the country than on shutting down the border. Apparently, Americans finally realized that border fences that cost $4 million per mile can be defeated by $10 ladders, or even less: A popular clip on YouTube shows two young women scaling the fence in 18 seconds — on their first try.

Furthermore, a Bloomberg poll released Tuesday found that 64 percent of likely voters supported Obama’s move, compared to a fringy 30 percent who opposed it. Independents supported the move 2-1.

“The hardest thing [for Republicans] about the immigration debate is that it’s a question of fairness,” GOP strategist and Ronald Reagan campaign manager Ed Rollins told The Washington Post. “A lot of people know a lot of good people who came into this country illegally and are trying to buy into the American Dream.” 

That’s an argument based not on demographic math, but on a fundamental American value. Yet despite compelling reasons to support immigration reform, Republicans have let their xenophobic fringe maneuver them outside the mainstream on the issue.

And have left Romney paralyzed with fear.

Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com).