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Moulitsas: Don’t ignore immigration

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Republicans know they can’t let the issue of immigration continue to fester, as the Latino vote has become a key equation in electoral math. Yet if recent talk from the GOP camp is any indication, they might as well write off 2016. 

The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform package last year, but Speaker John Boehner’s House hasn’t been eager to move. Stuck between business interests that want access to more (and mostly cheaper) foreign workers and its nativist xenophobic base, Republicans have decided its Tea Party packs the bigger bite. Reform has stalled, blocked by the Speaker even though if the Senate bill were to come to a vote in the House today, it would easily garner majority vote.

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On the other hand, the demographic math is clear: Republicans can’t keep losing Latinos by a 3-1 margin or worse and remain electorally viable. Unless they reverse their long-term decline among immigrant communities (which includes Asians, the fastest-growing ethnic or racial demographic today), they are through as a party. And Latinos know who to blame for the current stalemate. 

Univision lead anchor Jorge Ramos, oftentimes called the Latino Walter Cronkite, has led the harsh anti-GOP chorus in Spanish-language media. “Many Republicans think they can hide, and they can do politically expedient things like not putting immigration reform to a vote, but Latinos will remember that,” he said on “The Daily Show” last month. “If they don’t pass immigration reform, they can say ‘adios’ to the White House in 2016.” 

The funny thing is, Republicans generally agree. “We can win in 2014 without resolving it — we can’t win in 2016 without resolving it,” Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said last week. 

Well then, why not resolve it? 

Immigration reform remains extremely popular with the public. A CBS News poll late last year found that 69 percent of Republicans supported a path to citizenship that included a waiting period, paying a fine, criminal background checks and learning English. And that poll is not an outlier — poll after poll consistently shows only about a third of Republicans opposing “amnesty.” Opponents are a minority of the minority, but they make up in shrillness what they lack in size. 

So instead of doing the right thing, the popular thing, and heeding the majority position in the House, Boehner has a Plan B: He plans to release a statement of principles. They are to be vague, broad, ambiguous, indistinct, fuzzy — pretty much anything but “specific.” Maybe there will be legislation, maybe there won’t be. That part is vague too, of course. The only thing that will be clearly spelled out is the GOP’s desire for even greater border security. 

All of this is supposed to be a no-lose situation for Boehner. If all this fuzziness leads to actual immigration legislation, he gets to be the GOP’s savior. If, as likely, nothing happens because the nativists lose their head over this, then Boehner can go to his business donors, shrug his shoulders, and say “Aw shucks, I tried! Now give me your cash.” And Latinos? Apparently they’re supposed to be impressed by his nebulous statement of principles while their families continue to be torn apart.

Still, Boehner’s newfound interest in immigration signals a genuine fear in the Republican Party that it needs to do something on the issue lest demographics render its members electorally irrelevant. The math is clear: Latinos and Asians are a growth demographic. Tea Party members are not.

Moulitsas is the founder and publisher of Daily Kos.