The immigration bill may be dead for now, but the political forces behind it have not gone away. Those will continue to impact both major political parties for many years to come.
The basic force is that Hispanics are increasing as a share of the population. According to the latest data from the Census Bureau, there were 44.3 million Hispanics in the United States as of July 1, 2006, constituting 14.8 percent of the population. And they are the fastest growing ethnic group, accounting for about half the growth of population during the previous year—1.4 million out of a total increase of 2.9 million.
It is extremely unlikely that the number of Hispanics or their percentage of the population will decline any time in the near future. Even if the 12 million illegals among them are not granted amnesty, the likelihood of mass deportation is virtually nonexistent. Like or not, they are here to stay and all we are really negotiating is the terms.
Once one accepts that this country will have a large and expanding Hispanic population for many years to come, one has to consider the political implications. It doesn’t really matter that those currently here illegally cannot vote, because their children will. The 14th amendment to the Constitution guarantees that everyone born on American soil is a citizen, with all the rights that confers, and it is extremely unlikely that this provision will ever be repealed. Therefore, we must accept the reality that Hispanics will be a rising political force whether or not amnesty is conferred and border enforcement is increased.
According to exit surveys from the last several national elections, Hispanics vote Democratic over Republican by about a 7 to 3 margin. There is no reason to think this will change any time soon. Consequently, the more Hispanics there are in this country, the better it is for the Democrats.
The White House has deluded itself into thinking that Republicans may be able to win a larger percentage of Hispanic voters by championing immigration reform. However, as Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute points out, there was no wave of increased Hispanic support for Republicans after the 1986 amnesty supported by Ronald Reagan. Anyway, even if immigration reform gets enacted on George W. Bush’s watch, Democrats will get the vast bulk of the credit since most of the opposition comes from Republicans in Congress.
An article in Sunday’s New York Times notes that the rising importance of Hispanics has changed the dynamics of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. All the major candidates are carefully courting the Hispanic vote with advertisements in Spanish-language media outlets and other outreach efforts.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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