USA Today's Nov. 8 editorial page commented on the effect of Hispanic voters on the election and the future of immigration enforcement.
In a moment of unusual candor during an interview last month with The Des Moines Register, President Obama allowed that if he won re-election, a major reason would be the low opinion that Latino voters had of the Republican Party, thanks largely to its harsh stances on immigration.
Obama's political analysis proved spot on. Had Mitt Romney taken the 44% of the Hispanic vote that George W. Bush took in 2004, rather than the 27% that he actually got, the political landscape would look very different today. Romney would have won the popular vote by about 1 million votes, rather than having lost it by about 3 million. Those votes would have shifted Florida, Colorado Nevada and potentially other battleground states into the Republican column.
The GOP surely can't miss the message: The party's unpopularity with Latinos is undermining its candidates' ability to win the White House. There could hardly be a better catalyst for a new beginning for comprehensive immigration reform.
When last seen, comprehensive reform was being pushed by Bush, who had come from the Texas statehouse, where he developed a keen understanding of border issues and politics. But Bush was thwarted by Republican hard-liners insistent on an enforcement-only approach. The 2012 election offers a prime opportunity to break the gridlock.
As before, reform should begin with tough border enforcement, and with cracking down on employers who knowingly violate the law by hiring illegal workers. The GOP already has that part right. The United States is a nation of laws, and they should be enforced.
But enforcement needs to be combined with other measures: a guest-worker program and, more controversially, a path to legal status for those already here illegally who pay their taxes and stay out of trouble.
Yes, the opponents will scream about "amnesty," but the fact is that about 11 million people reside in the U.S. illegally. That's about the population of the biggest battleground state in the election, Ohio. Most are not going to "self-deport," as Romney put it during the Republican primaries. Romney also turned off Hispanic voters with his strong opposition to the DREAM Act, sensible legislation that would provide a route to permanent legal status for illegal immigrants brought to this country as children, as long as they meet certain conditions such as going to college or serving in the military.
Efforts to bring illegal immigrants into the mainstream would give them greater freedom to start businesses, return to school to acquire skills, participate more fully in their communities and contribute more to economic growth. Employers would be freer to find help that in many instances is in short supply, particularly manual laborers such as migrant farm workers.
Even if some politicians don't grasp the benefits of reform, most voters seem to. In Tuesday's exit polls, 65% said illegal workers should be offered a chance to apply for legal status, versus 28% who said they should be deported.
Democrats, meanwhile, need to accept aggressive enforcement, not interpret the election as reason to abandon it. That should allow Republicans to return to what was mainstream thinking not so long ago.
Already, some conservative leaders, including Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, are pushing for change. There is talk of assembling a coalition of evangelicals, law enforcement and corporate groups (or, as one conservative put it, "bibles, badges and businesses") to counter the harsh anti-immigrant voices.
As Republican lawmakers return to Washington, they should recognize that a new approach would help the party rebuild. More important, it would help America prosper.
Read USA Today's article on the impact of Hispanic voters