Opinion » Viewpoint

It’s the Demographics, Stupid

By playing politics, President Obama risks alienating a significant segment of the Democratic Party’s base.

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George P. Bush visited Memphis last month to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month and to help raise funds for "Latino Memphis," the Memphis advocacy group that supports the local Latino community. The Texas-based attorney with the famous last name (his grandfather is George H.W. Bush, his uncle is George W., and his father is Jeb) said nearly nothing in a 14-minute speech designed to be apolitical.

Given the big news out of Washington three days prior to Mr. Bush's speech concerning Hispanics and President Obama, Bush missed an opportunity to engage in one of the nation's most complex, controversial, and politically miscalculated social issues: our desperate need for comprehensive immigration reform.

President Obama's decision on September 6th to delay any decision on unilateral action designed to help Hispanics allowed Republicans to (correctly) claim that the president is "playing politics." Hispanic groups and others loyal to the Obama agenda reacted as if the president had issued a militant fatwa. "Bitter disappointment," "sold out," and "shameful" was some of the calmer language used to characterize the president's decision. Since a comprehensive overhaul of our outdated immigration laws is not going to happen this year, and is unlikely during Obama's term, executive action is the only path left for a president who has been outflanked in the immigration imbroglio.

Over the past 10 years or so, we've recognized deep flaws in our immigration system, and people are probably willing to wait a couple of months, if executive action is bold and effective. The election of a Republican president in 2016 could immediately undo an Obama executive action. In the meantime, let's hope the president slows his deportation program to focus on supporting and strengthening families living here, working here, seeking educational opportunities here, and contributing to our economy and society.

The vast majority of the 11 million undocumented persons in our country has aspirations of a better life, either here or back home, and presidential action should focus on supporting struggling families rather than the current deport and divide model.

It's suprising to still see Republican inaction and hostility toward our immigrant neighbors. Republican maniacal insistence on "border security" has become almost comical, given the vast sums spent already (about 18 billion per year) and the evident inability of technology to solve all our problems. This summer's northward migration of tens of thousands of undocumented children and women arriving at our border to seek political asylum represents a refugee/humanitarian crisis that no amount of "border security" could have prevented or adjudicated.

In his Memphis speech, Bush cited some well-known statistics from the venerated Pew Research Center but offered neither context nor political perspective to help his party navigate the looming Latino political imperative. For example, Bush noted that Latinos account for 15 percent of the national population but account for 50 percent of the nation's population growth. Though Bush failed to acknowledge it directly, Hispanics have political power in this nation, and that power will increase with time.

Hispanics in America know this, but national Hispanic leadership cannot come from Marco Rubio or Bush, both of whom have to contend with a political base that sees only repressive solutions to the immigration issue: vast and expanding numbers of security officials, more drones, taller fences, longer detentions, and more division of families.

What would work better is a comprehensive immigration package, such as the bill that's been sitting for 14 months in the Senate, awaiting some future House action. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, tasked with "scoring" bills to access/predict their overall impact on society, has stated that the Senate immigration bill would cut the budget deficit by $197 billion over the next decade and $700 billion one decade later through more transparent tax-paying. They predict a 5.4 percent growth in the economy and higher wages over the next 20 years, if we pass the Senate bill. But we won't, thanks to Republican intransigence.

Republicans can only win on this issue when they embrace reality, when they face the stark numbers, when they stop genuflecting to their angry, myopic leadership that refuses to acknowledge a simple certainty: It's the demographics, stupid!

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