Border crisis poses quandary for Republicans

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On the Michigan airwaves this week, Republican Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land released a TV ad accusing her Democratic opponent of being soft on illegal immigration. In an Iowa campaign stop, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told supporters that President Barack Obama’s moves toward protecting many illegal migrants from deportation amounted to a king changing laws by “royal edict.”

At a Maryland firehouse, Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., warned that if Democrats insist on offering citizenship to illegal immigrants, House Republicans would never support a comprehensive immigration overhaul.

“Our position is border security before we discuss immigration,” Mr. Harris told more than 50 people during a town hall meeting Wednesday in Easton, Md.

As lawmakers returned home to begin a month-long summer recess this week and prepare for the final stretch of a competitive midterm campaign, the debate over how to handle the recent influx of Central American children and families across the southern border has pushed immigration back to the national political forefront and presented a sharp conundrum for Republicans.

The crisis has empowered conservatives, whose more restrictionist views on the crisis and the broader issue of dealing with the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the country have taken precedence in the party. House Republicans are pushing for more deportations, and several of the party’s prospective 2016 White House contenders are moving to align themselves with the GOP’s pro-enforcement wing.

The tough rhetoric can help Republicans with their goal of making the midterms a referendum on Mr. Obama’s leadership in their bid to win the Senate. And it helps aspiring presidential candidates as they seek early support among conservatives who will be important in deciding the nomination.

But the strategy runs counter to the party’s announcement — after losing the presidential race two years ago — that its future depends largely on broadening its appeal to minority groups and that its viability as a national force in 2016 and beyond depends on making inroads with Latinos, one of the fastest-growing voting blocs.

“This is a short-term political gain for Republicans,” said Charles Spies, a former Mitt Romney campaign aide who is part of a coalition of Republicans advocating for immigration reform. “The problem, of course, comes on the national scale. ... Without a friendly posture towards [Hispanics], we still face a massive demographic problem.”

Mr. Obama won more than 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in his 2012 re-election, after which the Republican National Committee wrote in a blunt self-assessment: “It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies.”

Last week, the GOP-led House voted to authorize millions of federal dollars to send National Guard troops to the border to stem the influx of minors from Central America, moved to overturn an anti-trafficking law meant to protect the children and voted to end an Obama administration program that has postponed the deportations of more than a half -million young immigrants.

The moves by the Republicans were met with outrage among immigrant rights groups, but GOP lawmakers touted their actions as a response to a border fiasco of Mr. Obama’s making and a bid to present the White House’s potential executive action on immigration as an unconstitutional power play.

House leaders had already decided this summer to abandon efforts to pursue broader legislation — a decision that prompted the White House to lay the groundwork for executive action that some advocates say could defer deportations of up to 5 million people.

New polls show that the GOP has made little or no progress in its goal of wooing Latinos. This week, a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 65 percent of Hispanics held an unfavorable view of the party, with just 29 percent viewing Republicans favorably.

Sixty-one percent viewed the Democratic Party favorably.

Polls also showed that Republicans might have had a chance to gain ground. Mr. Obama’s 54 percent job approval rating among Hispanics in the most recent Gallup poll marked a steep decline from 75 percent in December 2012 — prompting some Republicans to fret about a missed opportunity, particularly in swing states where the party’s lack of action could hurt their fortunes.

“I’m extremely frustrated,” said Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who is in a tight contest in his bid to unseat Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., in a state where Hispanics make up 21 percent of the population. “I have been somebody who has been very vocal since I got elected to Congress about the need for immigration reform.”

An NBC News/​Marist College poll found Mr. Gardner trailing Mr. Udall, 58 percent to 27 percent, among Hispanic registered voters.

mitt romney - United States - North America - United States government - Central America - Latin America and Caribbean - Barack Obama - United States Congress - U.S. Republican Party - George W. Bush - United States Senate - Marco Rubio - Iowa - Rick Perry - Mark Udall - Rand Paul - Terri Lynn Land - Cory Gardner - Steve King - Andrew Harris - Carlos Gutierrez


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