The indispensible blog of Ben Smith at Politico.com has a posting up about immigration reform. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is evidently threatening to withhold support for the health care reform unless the congressional leadership and the White House pledge themselves to moving the immigration issue this year.
It was one of the least remarked aspects of the health care vote in the U.S. House that the Republican motion to recommit would have passed if they had focused it on the immigration provisions of the bill, and kept all their troops in line. Liberal, Hispanic Democrats and conservative Republicans would have been voting for different reasons, of course, with conservatives wanting stricter prohibitions on immigrant access to health care and liberals wanting less punitive measures. But, Hispanic members of Congress are indicating now that they will not have their votes taken for granted.
The Democrats have a very selfish reason for supporting immigration reform this year. The party in power traditionally has trouble getting its troops to the polls, fulfilling the old axiom that nothing motivates voters better than anger and hatred at those in power. Moderate and conservative Democrats may worry that moving on immigration reform, in addition to health care reform, is only going to jeopardize their chances at re-election, but I suspect the opposite is the case. First, there is probably a lot of overlap between the tea party crowd and the nativist anti-immigration groups. Second, Democrats do not currently have any group of the electorate that is as motivated as the tea party crowd and motivating Hispanic voters will be a lot easier if Democrats successfully pass immigration reform.
There may be some Democrats in districts where Latinos are not a significant portion of the electorate, but in an off-year election, when voter turnout is low, a few percentage points here or there can make a big difference. While the Latino vote is already decisive in several key districts in Florida and the Southwest, and where the immigration issue costs Republicans several congressional seats in 2006, there are significant Latino populations throughout the U.S.
The problem with moving immigration reform right now is that the unemployment rate is still at 10 percent and a guest worker program must necessarily be a part of any comprehensive immigration reform. The possibilities for conservative demagoguery are infinite. But, if the unemployment rate drops to 9 percent and appears to be continuing on a downward trajectory, the Democrats should proceed with immigration reform forthwith. Besides, it is the right thing to do.