Why Democrats Could Still Lose Latino Voters

| Fri May 7, 2010 3:25 PM EDT

Arizona’s immigration law has infuriated and mobilized the Latino community. And Republican support for the measure could end up alienating Latino voters and damaging the party’s long-term prospects. At the same time, the circumstances won’t necessarily translate into political gains for the Democrats this year if the party fails to make a strong bid to protect Latino rights, the American Prospect’s Adam Serwer argues:

[T]he anti-immigrant sentiment of today's GOP won't keep Latinos voting Democratic if they ultimately get nothing out of it. Latinos today, like black Americans in the past, won’t just be looking for a party that will reach out to them rhetorically -- they will want parties and politicians that can achieve their legislative goals.

Serwer draws a comparison with how black Americans ended up moving away from the Republican Party after the Civil War: Despite the racist attitudes of the old Democratic Party, the GOP “proved itself unwilling or unable to continue a sustained struggle for black rights following the Civil War”—and blacks ended up migrating to the other side.

Similarly, present-day Democrats still risk taking Latino voters for granted if they fail to act on their promises to the Latino community. While the GOP has certainly shifted to the right on immigration reform since the failure of the 2007 bill, the Democrats have as well. Since President Obama first took office, the administration has devoted its resources on immigration to ramping up border enforcement and deporting criminal immigrants. In fact, it deported 5 percent more immigrants than the Bush administration in its first year. And the Senate Democrats’ current plan for an immigration overhaul places a huge emphasis on border security and enforcement in their attempt to win over moderates and conservatives, providing extensive detail about cracking down on illegal immigrants in the workplace while making only brief mention of a pathway toward legalization.

But so far, no Republicans have come to the table since Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) pulled away from the discussions. And Obama, in his recent comments, has made it increasingly clear that the Democrats will continue to slow-walk an immigration overhaul this year. So the Democrats are simply left with calls for heightened border security and other immigration crackdowns—which the Republicans are matching with hard-line proposals of their own, as Politico points out.

That doesn’t mean that Latino voters will be particularly eager to run into the arms of the GOP, particularly as more conservatives have begun to embrace the Arizona law. But that doesn’t mean that they’ll swing heavily for the Democrats, either. As TAP’s Gabriel Arana writes, despite their recent denunciation of the Arizona law, “progressives have failed to provide a counterweight to anti-immigrant sentiment” by strongly advocating for immigrant rights. And until then, Latino voters could still decide to stay home this fall and sit this one out.

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