Budget reconciliation is not going to include a significant legalization component. It may include other immigration measures. But Dreamers, TPS recipients and farmworkers will remain in limbo. Which means everyone is angry at everyone.
The far left is angry at the left. The left is deeply suspicious of the right. The right is politically paralyzed by the far right. And, well, the far right pretty much hates all of us.
Nationally, we’ve moved beyond what Amanda Ripley calls a state of high conflict where, “We feel increasingly certain of our own superiority and, at the same time, more and more mystified by the other side.”
There is no mystery to our politics. Our nation’s factions understand each other quite well. It is just really hard to build a 50%+1 (much less a plurality) coalition of the American public.
And in the immigration space, the incentive structure to build such a coalition has changed.
For years, the Republican incentive to engage on immigration was Latino voters. Those days are gone.
In their deep dive into 2020 elections, Equis Research found that while immigration didn’t stand out elsewhere in the country, “in Texas, views on Trump’s immigration agenda powerfully sorted Hispanic independents between the two presidential candidates. The effect of immigration was strongest along the border, where it centered quite naturally on the highly salient issue of border security.”
They found that along the border and in speaking to Hispanic voters, “one side completely owns a highly salient issue without meaningful competition.” This crack in support has expanded beyond South Texas for Democrats.
Ruy Teixeira recently pointed out that Hispanic voters were split evenly between Democrats and Republicans in the 2022 generic congressional ballot. And in a 2024 hypothetical rematch between Trump and Biden, these voters favored Biden by only a single point.
He continued, “A recent 538 analysis of aggregated poll data shows that, while Biden has lost support among all racial groups in the last 9 months, the decline has been sharpest among Hispanics.”
The same goes for the Asian American vote. In a separate post examining changing demographics of Democratic support, Teixeira found, “Biden has lost support twice as fast among Asian voters as among whites since July.”
CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez reports that anti-immigrant groups are exploiting this opening. The Federation for American Immigration Reform “plans to invest millions in issue-based ads this year and roll out additional Spanish-language ads — a first for the group.”
As Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War, “If the enemy leaves a door open, you must rush in.”
The primary political incentive to reform our immigration system — the changing demographics of the electorate — is no longer absolute.
Meanwhile, as Democrats have spent months negotiating with themselves on immigration, recent polling by Politico/Morning Consult finds that 56% of registered voters disapprove of Biden’s handling of immigration (against 33% who approve). And border security is second to economic issues in terms of top priorities voters want lawmakers to address.
Biden and congressional Democrats have ceded the ground on immigration, leaving the door open for Republicans to frame the issue. Which means that in order to regain lost ground, Democrats will need to take on their base and try to find a policy compromise with Republicans.
Finding 50 Senate Democrats willing to do this will be tough. Finding 10 Senate Republicans to compromise will be tougher.
Let’s be honest, at this point Republicans think they are winning by doing nothing. They tell voters the immigration system is out of control but don’t have to be a part of the solution.
But the potential of a Speaker McCarthy spending everyday catering to the anti-immigrant forces within his conference is one incentive for reasonable Republicans in the Senate to act now. Particularly with the angry, anti-immigrant shadow of a Republican presidential primary lurking.
Let’s go back to that Politico/Morning Consult poll.
Take a closer look and you find that 58% of independent women and 86% of Republican women disapprove of the president’s handling of immigration. Remember, in 2018 and 2020, Democrats saw 15- and 10-point increases, respectively, in support from independents. And Biden enjoyed a 9-point increase in support from suburban voters in 2020.
If Democrats were to approach immigration as a way to compete for independent women, Republicans would have a political incentive to engage.
Democrats aren’t. So Republicans don’t have to.
Over the last year, we have seen double digit growth in our communities of conservative and moderate evangelical women seeking a constructive approach to immigration. Thousands have joined the community, weighed in with members of Congress and connected with each other.
In this audience – and so many like it – there is political incentive for both parties to find a compromise.
In Federalist 10, James Madison wrote that our “zeal for different opinions has … divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.”
If we are ever going to return to cooperating for the common good, politicians need an incentive to take small, courageous steps towards new coalitions.