Many commentators have interpreted a failure of Republicans to win over Hispanic voters as a key factor in Mitt Romney's defeat in last week's the Presidential election and called for openness to more liberal immigration policies as a targeted way of addressing this problem without wider reforms in the party's message. In particular, Republican leaders in Congress appear to have agreed and are preparing to embrace immigration liberalization.
Immigration is an issue that has split both political parties.
Democrats are split between those who feel that liberal immigration policies embrace its broad non-white demographic makeup and is a last front in the effort to end racism, and those who are worried about immigrants making the job market tighter for working class Americans in the Democratic party's self-proclaimed role as advocate for those who are less well off. (Democratic politicians, for example, tend to be strongly against economic policies that facilitate the offshoring of jobs.)
Republicans are split between those who see cheap labor and free immigration as natural extrapolations of a generalized Republican committment to free market economics, and Republicans who are xenophobic, racist, and who feel that the erosion of the economic well being of white blue collar men over the last several decades is mostly due to Hispanic immigration.
President Obama has tread carefully, advancing the relatively timid reform of the DREAM Act, first legislatively, and when that bill stalled in Congress, via an executive order related to immigration law enforcement that Romney had pledged to continue into his administration.
The DREAM Act would have offered a path to a green card and eventual citizenship to undocumentated immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children (and hence made no personal decision to break immigration laws), without criminal records, who are pursuing higher education or military service. This is the low hanging fruit of immigration reform, targeting a population fully assimiliated to U.S. culture who appear to be on track to be "makers" rather than "takers" in their contributions to society, whose presence is a fait accompli and calls upon the etiquette of "present company excluded" to avoid more generalized condemnation lodged by xenophobes against immigrants.
But, President Obama has not managed to rally a political consensus around a broader reform of U.S. immigration laws, despite its attractiveness as a potential engine for sustainable and fundamental economic growth.
I am a strong supporter of a more liberalized immigration policy, and hope that regardless of whether Republican Congressional leaders are actually reading the tea leaves correctly, that this election may move this one issue forward a little.