By Representative Luis Gutierrez
Thursday evening, President Obama told voters during a televised candidates' forum on Univision, the largest Spanish-language TV network, that he regretted not having enacted comprehensive immigration reform during his first term. He described the lack of reform as his "biggest failure" during his first term in office.
I share that regret and frustration, but also agree with the president that after election day, we will have a new opportunity to break the Republican gridlock that has thwarted serious immigration reform for decades. But Congressman, you may ask, how could the next four years be any better for enacting immigration reform legislation than the last four years, or eight, or 16? My answer: because of what will happen on election day.
President Obama's statement to Univision suggests to me that we will see real leadership from the during his second term -- and I look forward to standing with him to make comprehensive immigration reform a national priority. Election day will be a turning point and significant immigration reform is possible because the dynamics of the issue are shifting.
To enact any sensible immigration reform, the Democrats will need to bring 90% of the votes to get a bill passed, but after election day, finding 10% of the votes among Republicans will be a lot easier. If the Republican party is to survive, it must sue for peace on the immigration issue and move beyond gridlock.
While jobs, education, and healthcare rank among the top issues for Latino voters, immigration is a threshold issue. If you are opposed to immigration or support strictly punitive immigration measures, you cannot even start a conversation about other issues with most Latino voters. And if your party condones the sharp rhetoric and mean-spirited proposals that some Republicans embrace, it is a tough deficit to overcome. Some leaders inside the Republican party understand this reality.
Mitt Romney has fallen with Latino voters and he can't get up. In August, the Romney camp announced a target of attracting 38% of the Latino vote, but his support currently lags in the 20s -- with little chance that it will improve.
And in America, we do not elect the president nationally, but state by state, with the electoral college votes of each state you win adding to a national victory. We know how most states will votes, leaving far fewer than a dozen swing states to determine the outcome nationally.
Because of Latino voters and their support for Obama, victory looks likely. In Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, and Florida, Latinos make up significant percentages of the electorate and are breaking strongly for Obama and the Democrats. Even in states like North Carolina and Virginia, where Latinos make up a smaller percentage, the races are so close that how Latinos vote -- both who they vote for and how many turn out -- will probably determine who wins, and therefore who wins nationally.
So, I see the day after election day as a day when Democrats look around and say that a huge factor in Romney losing and Obama winning was Latino voters.
To be sure, like a lot of constituencies, Latino voters are not as enthusiastic right now about President Obama as they were four years ago. Enforcement of the old, broken system has increased dramatically under President Obama, resulting in record deportations and record expansion of programs to enlist state and local police in enforcing federal civil law, undermining local public safety as a result.
The president has accomplished a lot through administrative action to remove threats to our society while allowing assets to our communities to remain in this country. But we can only fully modernize our immigration system through legislation and bring it into the 21st century, including getting more high-skilled immigrants to choose America and reuniting families that sometimes wait more than 20 years for a visa.
The Republicans will soon understand how costly their obstruction and wrong-headedness has been, and I think we will be able to return to the table to discuss how we couple legal immigration, legalization for undocumented immigrants, and enforcement in the workplace and at the border into a politically viable and successful immigration reform package. With illegal immigration at an historically low level, we can and must get control of immigration and get millions of undocumented residents into the system and on-the-books.
But we will need Republicans who want to help solve the problem to join us.