Immigration’s Heat Stroke

Immigration Reform Bill 2013It’s going to be a long hot summer for immigration.

The Gang of Eight delivered on their 4th of July deadline.  But the House will fail to vote before the August recess.  Immigration will be left out in the sun during the politically hottest month–when members spend weeks at home face-to-face with their constituents.

In theory immigration should not be subject to too much political heat.  According to the most recent Gallup poll public support for immigration is at an all-time high.  Close to three-quarters of respondents say that immigration is a good thing for the country. And while there are differences across party lines, the general upwards trend in support of immigration is consistent.

The support for immigration is also seen at the power player level.  Political leaders on both sides of the isle have voiced their support for fixing our broken immigration system.  Just this week we saw President Obama and former President George W. Bush both make public appeals to get immigration reform passed.

Groups in favor of immigration reform have also put their money where their mouth is.  Both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and labor unions have purchased major ad buys pumping out their support.

Then, there’s the Latino side of the equation.  It would be irrational for the GOP to not court the Latino vote, or at the very least not stick a finger in their eye by rejecting immigration reform.  The polling firm Latino Decisions indicates that there are 44 Republican House districts where the Latino vote could be influential in the 2014 election.  Moreover, fourteen of these seats have large Latino populations and had narrow margins in the last election.

But all of these arguments in favor of immigration reform are falling on deaf ears in the House of Representatives.  The House’s tone deafness seems irrational considering the larger political climate.  However House members don’t operate in a general political climate, they operate in a climate that is constrained by the needs and wants of their home districts.  When we look at the political calculus from the district level rather than one that looks at general public opinion or what political elites say we can see why immigration is in trouble.

Immigration is supported by a majority, but there is a significant chunk that does not support it.  Also decades of partisan gerrymandering have left districts increasingly homogeneous where more likely than not American voters against immigration will be clustered.  Last but not least, opposing voices tend to be louder than those that are in agreement.

victoria defrancesco sotoThe danger is that back at home House members will be barraged by vocal anti-immigrant advocates.   The nightmare scenario is that these voices take the form of the 2009 healthcare town halls.  Earlier this year Senator John McCain already faced a gathering of citizens angry about immigration.

All House members will be headed back home in August.  But for Republican House members from conservative districts their break will be especially sweltering.  They will face a month of pressure to not support immigration.  And while Republicans know that supporting immigration is what’s best for the party many will see it as against their self-interest and in the end letting the political heat of August kill off any legislation.

Victoria Defrancesco Soto
Dr. VMDS

Friday, 12 July 2013

Published by the LA Progressive on July 13, 2013
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About Victoria DeFrancesco Soto

Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University and a Faculty Fellow at Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research. She received her Ph.D. from Duke University in 2007 during which time she was a National Science Foundation Fellow. DeFrancesco Soto was recently named one of the top 12 scholars in the country by Diverse magazine.

Victoria’s research analyzes how human thought and emotion shapes political behavior. Her academic work focuses on: campaigns and elections, political marketing, race and ethnic politics, and immigration. Her academic research has been widely published in scholarly journals and edited volumes. In 2008, Dr. DeFrancesco Soto was Northwestern University’s principal investigator for the Big Ten Battleground Poll, a public opinion survey of voters for the 2008 Presidential election. She is currently working on a book manuscript that analyzes the emergence of conservative feminism.