The set-up is the same: draconian, anti-immigrant, anti-children legislation backed by the GOP. A fatigued, yet powerful, Latino voting bloc. Only time will tell whether Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans will look back on their $694 million dollar bill as their Pete Wilson moment. For those that don't remember, Pete Wilson backed a hardline immigration proposition in the 1994 California governor's election that aimed to deny undocumented children public schooling and other social services. Pete Wilson won that election, and the proposition passed, but the repercussions still reverberate to this day. Hispanic voters in California mobilized against the measure, and the election is seen as a turning point for the GOP in California, driving millions of Latinos solidly into the Democratic Party.
The 2012 post-election autopsy published by the RNC made one thing very clear: the Republican Party was not going to survive without Latino voters. It urged the party to reach out to previously neglected demographics and to not adopt policy positions that might alienate them (self deportation, anyone?) Things looked promising early in this Congress with leaders in both chambers and both parties making commitments to finally passing comprehensive immigration reform. But, as has too often been the case in recent times, the agenda was hijacked by a small minority of extremists and throttled in the House. One must look no farther than this latest political posturing masquerading as productive legislation to see that the warnings of the RNC have not been heeded.
In passing their border bill, Republicans sent two clear messages. First, they are not interested in doing any meaningful effort on the humanitarian crisis we are currently faced with on the border. President Obama is right to act under executive powers in order to ensure that these children remain safe because Congress could not be bothered to do their job and work toward finding an acceptable solution. Second, they are not interested in the concerns or the votes of Latinos.
Unfortunately, the evidence shows that this type of behavior will continue as long as it is tolerated. And while Latino voters undeniably fueled President Obama's 2012 presidential victory, the smaller midterm elections have thus far failed to garner the same level of attention in the community. A study published by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials projects that Latinos will make up 7.8% of the electorate in the 2014 midterms, while comprising over 17% of the population. While this is an increase of a full percentage point from the turnout in 2010, it also marks a drop-off of 25% in raw voters from the 2012 election, the largest of any demographic group.
To see how this voting bloc can swing an election, look to Virginia last year. A gubernatorial election in an off-year is a recipe for depressed turnout, especially among Democratic voters. But when faced with another extremist, tea-party Republican candidate, one who used the phrase "exterminating rats" in a conversation about immigration policy, Latino voters broke overwhelmingly for the Democrat Terry McAuliffe. 50,000 more Latinos cast ballots in 2013 than in the gubernatorial election in 2009, making up two whole percentage points more of the total electorate. McAuliffe's margin of victory? You guessed it: 2%.
Latinos can send a message of their own on November 4th. But to do so, they must get out and vote, not let their voice be drowned out by a small group of extremists that would rather they stay home in silence.