Whatever happens to post-election fiscal cliff negotiations in Washington, one previously scorned issue may be finally closer to resolution — immigration reform.
Defeat has its lessons, and here’s one: On Nov. 6, one in 10 voters was Latino and 71 percent of them supported President Obama. Unless Republicans want to lose more general elections, it’s clear they need to increase support with this growing constituency.
Former President George W. Bush and his political adviser, Karl Rove, understood this. Still, Mr. Bush’s sensible proposal was sunk by the “A” word — amnesty — although a pathway to legalization for long-established illegal immigrants always made sense.
Although the Obama Administration has deported more than 1.4 million illegal immigrants — a higher monthly rate than Mr. Bush — most Latinos went to the polls having decided which party supported their interests. They had their reasons.
In June, the President reacted to the failure of the so-called Dream Act to pass Congress by using his executive power to stop deporting juveniles who came here before age 16. “They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper,” Mr. Obama said then. Republicans fumed.
Now, election results have Republicans singing a new tune. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, a previous opponent of immigration reform, said “a comprehensive approach is long overdue” — and he found support from former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. It wasn’t just the politicians; Fox News commentator Sean Hannity said he had “evolved” on this issue too.
The time is right. Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, previous champions of immigration reform, are back with another proposal. Their bill would provide steps for citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants here, but not until the borders were secure.
It won’t be easy for Republicans to put aside the widespread view of illegal immigrants as lawbreakers instead of family-oriented, would-be entrepreneurs, but they now understand their political futures largely depend on it.