Those championing immigration reform have already begun to lay the groundwork for a new push in Congress, predicting the Hispanic vote could have a game-changing impact on this year’s presidential election.
If Hispanic voters turn out en masse to oppose Republican Donald Trump and his stand on immigration, the November outcome could look a lot like 2012, but on steroids, some predict.
Within hours of the 2012 election results, conservative leaders were calling for the party to be more welcoming to the nation’s fastest-growing voting bloc, who overwhelmingly supported President Barack Obama after Republican candidate Mitt Romney supported a controversial “self-deportation” platform.
That didn’t appear to be a concern in Cleveland on the first night of the Republican National Convention. The GOP demonstrated its tough stance on immigration when one of the first speakers was the family of border patrol agent, Brian A. Terry, who was killed in a shootout linked to a botched gun-smuggling sting known as Fast and Furious. Terry’s brother and sister told the crowd inside the Quicken Loans Arena that the Obama administration hadn’t done enough to stop illegal immigration.
“Only one candidate is serious about border security, and that’s Donald Trump,” said Kent Terry.
Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have made immigration a major part of their campaign. Trump has proposed deporting 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally and building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Clinton said she would introduce an immigration overhaul in her first 100 days in office.
More than 27 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote in the 2016 election, according to the Pew Research Center. Nearly half of them are millennials, reflecting the potential importance of the young U.S.-born Latino population in the election.
Recent polls show Trump has little support among Hispanics. Eighty-two percent of Hispanic voters have an unfavorable view of Trump, according to the polling by Telemundo, NBC News and The Wall Street Journal. A survey by the Univision television network found that 77 percent of Hispanics had an unfavorable opinion of Trump.
Trump has called Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists. He criticized the nation's only female Hispanic governor and accused a U.S. district judge of being biased against him because the judge was of Mexican descent.
“If Hillary Clinton wins the election with huge support from the Latino community, I think the Republicans are going to have another critical, introspective moment where they recognize that some of the angry rhetoric during the campaign is on a collision course with the demographic realities of the future,” said Benjamin Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Some Republican senators, including Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have raised the idea of reconstituting the so-called Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of senators who wrote immigration legislation that included a citizenship opportunity for millions of people in the United States illegally.
If Democrats regain the Senate, Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., another member of the Gang of Eight, is expected to be the Senate majority leader.
Business groups such as the Partnership for a New American Economy, started by media giant and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have been holding meetings on Capitol Hill and with Republican pollsters to discuss the economic benefits of immigration. The groups are pulling statistics in every state in anticipation of a nationwide campaign that will kick off later this summer. Jeremy Robbins, the executive director, said groups like his that support an immigration overhaul are much better organized than they were in 2012 and will be able to better capitalize on any momentum generated from the election.
On Tuesday, they were in Cleveland for the Republican National Convention hosting an event with members of the local Republican party and several local immigrant entrepreneurs.
“We make the case that immigration is good for the economy,” Robbins said following the event. “And the second thing is showing both parties that there is political opportunity in being on the right side of immigration and a lot of political costs of being on the wrong side.”
Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, cautions those from counting out Trump. Aguilar, who endorsed Trump this month after previously working to block his nomination, argues that 2016 is a new election cycle. Trump may bring out enough people who hadn’t voted before that he might not need as many Hispanic votes.
Aguilar said neither candidate is great for Latinos, but he said Clinton is pandering to Latinos and antagonizing Republicans by making promises to take more executive actions on immigration than Obama did.
“To pass immigration reform, you need a consensus,” Aguilar said. “She’s already antagonizing Republicans. You don’t slap someone in the face and then say ‘Let’s talk.’ ”