THE BLOG
12/19/2014 03:23 pm ET Updated Feb 18, 2015

On Immigration, Republican Lawmakers Lag Behind Latino Voters

On November 20, President Obama issued an executive order on immigration that will allow up to 5 million people to live free from the fear of deportation. The president's actions -- though temporary, and by no means a substitute for Congress passing immigration reform legislation -- are welcome news for the millions of Americans whose family members, friends, and coworkers can now come out of the shadows and contribute to the country they call home.

Four days after the president's announcement on immigration, Latino Decisions asked Hispanic voters whether they supported the administration's actions. An overwhelming 89 percent of polled Latino voters viewed the executive actions favorably. This strong support from Latino voters held up regardless of party affiliation, with 95 percent of Democrats, 81 percent of Independents, and 76 percent of Republicans endorsing the president's decision to grant administrative relief to millions of undocumented individuals.

Latinos are particularly affected by Congress' failure to fix our broken immigration system. A poll of Latino voters just before the 2014 midterm elections found that 58 percent of respondents had a family member, friend, or co-worker who was undocumented. Immigration reform isn't just an abstract issue for many Latino voters: The continued absence of immigration reform can mean losing a father, a mother, a close friend, or a valued employee to deportation. Latino voters will not soon forget that House leadership refused to give reform a vote on the House floor after the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill in June 2013. And when the 2016 elections roll around, whether they identify as Democrats, Independents, or Republicans, Latino voters will remember the president's executive order, the stability it provided for their loved ones -- as well as the way that their representatives in Congress reacted to the president's announcement.

So how will Latino voters view the many Republicans voicing extreme opposition to the president's executive order on immigration? Rep. Louis Gohmert called the executive actions "an offense to the Constitution," and described the order as threatening "a state of lawlessness in America." The reliably anti-immigrant Rep. Steve King deemed the immigration fixes as "destroy[ing] the rule of law" and called on Congress to deny funding for the order, "whatever form that takes." Even Speaker of the House John Boehner, usually a more moderate voice than Gohmert or King, pledged "to fight the president tooth and nail" if the Obama administration acted on immigration.

The 2016 elections are not far off. As we've noted previously in this space, 2016 will be nothing like 2014 for the Republican Party. The Senate races of 2016 will take place in states with large Latino populations, and the electorate that comes out to the polls in 2016 will be much more diverse than in 2014. Opposing the President's actions on immigration makes little sense for those GOP lawmakers with significant Latino constituencies in their districts -- or for presidential aspirants who hope to court Latino voters in swing states such as Florida, Colorado, and Nevada. Adopting the hyperbolic, counter-productive posturing of Reps. King and Gohmert will only damage the GOP's national brand with Hispanics and alienate the Latino voters who might very well be the deciding factor in a competitive election.

That is why a few GOP lawmakers, understanding that Latino voters overwhelmingly support commonsense action on immigration, have measured their responses to the president's executive order. Consider newly-elected Rep. Carlos Curbelo. Curbelo, who represents a district that is 67 percent Hispanic, has so far stayed far away from the outrageous rhetoric of Gohmert, King & co., preferring instead to encourage the president to work with Congress while also urging his GOP colleagues to leave existing measures such as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) alone. Meanwhile, several Republican members of Congress who have in the past been supportive of immigration reform efforts, including Reps. Jeff Denham, Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mike Coffman, and David Valadao, voted against Rep. Ted Yoho's recent move to block the president's executive order.

It's worth repeating that Latino voters across the board, including 76 percent of Republican Latinos, strongly support the president's executive order. Some members of the Republican Party understand this fact and have so far refused to cave in to the extreme anti-immigrant elements of their party. If the GOP hopes to keep the Senate in 2016 or to win back the White House, the party should follow their lead.