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GOP Opposition to 2010 DREAM Act Still Haunting the Party

In the emerging postmortems on the Romney campaign, many reasons are being adduced for his defeat, but one point is generally consistently acknowledged–the Republicans paid a heavy price for alienating Latino voters. As Fox News notes:

Obama garnered 71 percent of the Latino vote nationwide compared to Mitt Romney’s 27 percent, according to the exit polls. Romney’s showing among Latinos in 2012 is the worst for a GOP candidate since Bob Dole won 21 percent of the Latino vote in 1996. When President George W. Bush won in 2000, he received 44 percent of the Latino vote, and in 2008 John McCain won 31 percent of the vote….

The importance of the Latino vote can especially be underscored in states like Nevada, Florida, and Colorado, where the Latino electorate makes a significant portion of the electorate at 18, 17, and 14 percent, respectively.

It is not a coincidence, of course, that Romney lost all of those states. In retrospect, President Obama pulled off a masterstroke when in June he issued an executive order stopping the potential deportation of some 800,000 young people who arrived here as undocumented immigrants. He thus seized the initiative by depicting himself as the champion of immigrants and the GOP–which loudly denounced his move–as the party of nativism.

It did not need to have happened. Republicans could have grabbed immigration as their own issue by passing the DREAM Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation originally introduced by Senators Dick Durbin and Orrin Hatch, that would allow young illegal immigrants to become legal residents of the U.S. by either going to school or serving in the armed forces and staying out of trouble. The idea is an excellent one, because those who would benefit from the DREAM Act were brought here by their parents. It makes no sense to try to punish them for what others may have done wrong, and it makes a lot of sense to provide them a path to legality so as to keep them from being consigned to the grey economy and possibly even criminal activity. Republicans ought to be in favor of “earning” citizenship, but it is their opposition which has consistently blocked the DREAM Act from becoming law.

For instance, in 2010 the Senate defeated the DREAM Act 55 to 41 on a mostly party-line vote. Five conservative Democrats voted no along with all but three Republican senators (Bob Bennett, Richard Lugar and Lisa Murkowski). It is striking that, of those three, the first two are no longer in the Senate because they lost primary challenges to Tea Party candidates. Murkowski managed to stay in the Senate only by winning a write-in campaign.

Obviously immigration was not the only reason these GOP officeholders were abandoned by their own party. But it was certainly part of the reason—and that shows what a formidable obstacle Republicans will face in winning over Latino votes. But if the GOP is not to be consigned to indefinite minority status, it desperately needs to rethink its stance on immigration. It can start by passing the DREAM Act.