Immigration Policy Center: The Growing Immigrant Electorate

Moderate Republicans have been warning for months about the perils – to the GOP, anyway – of the anti-immigrant rhetoric that has become coin of the realm on the far Right of the party. Harsh words about illegal immigration and ongoing efforts to torpedo anything that looks like immigration reform may help win votes in the short run, but risk of alienating a new and increasingly important bloc of voters: immigrants and their children.

A recent study from the Immigration Policy Center makes clear just how risky the anti-immigrant gambit is to the long-term vitality of the GOP. (See The New American Electorate: The Growing Political Power of Immigrants and Their Children, by Walter Ewing and Seth Hoy, Immigration Policy Center, Oct.2010.) The study, entitled “The New American Electorate: The Growing Political Power of Immigrants and Their Children,” looks at a group it calls “New Americans,” which includes both naturalized citizens and the children of naturalized citizens who came here and “were raised during the current era of large-scale immigration from Latin America and Asia which began in 1965.” For these people, the study says, immigration is not something deep in the family’s ancient history, but is part of their daily reality, their lived experience. Cross this group at your peril, the study warns, noting, “As public opinion polls reveal, anti-immigrant political rhetoric is likely to motivate many New Americans to cast ballots, but is unlikely to win many votes for candidates perceived as anti-immigrant.”

The shifting demographics should be sobering to politicians accustomed to dining out on their anti-immigrant credentials. According to the Immigration Policy Center (IPC), New Americans were 10.2 percent (15 million) of all registered voters in 2008.  In the twelve years between the presidential elections of 1996 and 2008, the number of New Americans registered to vote increased by 101.5 percent, IPC determined, with Asian and Latino voters comprising the lion’s share of this total. In recent years, IPC points out, Asians, Latinos, and other New Americans have become critical voting blocs in many states, and they tend to pay close attention to immigration issues when voting.

Two other facts give added punch to these changing demographics, according to IPC: the fact that immigrant communities are no longer concentrated in a few areas of the United States, but are spread around, and therefore influential in many races now, and the fact that elections now tend to be decided by “very thin voting margins.” In other words, alienating Latino and Asian immigrants may not be such a great strategy, if you’re hoping to stay in Congress.

Moderate Republicans have long since assimilated this message, but surprisingly few have gone public about the long-term dangers to the party of a short-term anti-immigrant strategy. Let’s hope this changes after the election, so that there’s some hope of meaningful bipartisanship when comprehensive immigration reform returns to the legislative agenda. Memo to the anti-immigrant wing of the GOP: read the Immigration Policy Center study, before it’s too late!

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.