Traverse City Record-Eagle


November 15, 2012

Mitchel Olszak: New era for immigration reform?

Nov. 6 wasn't exactly a debacle for Republicans.

But from some of the reaction coming out of the GOP, you might make that assumption.

Many Republicans expected big gains from this year's general election, up to and including a recapturing of the White House. Instead, the results left both parties pretty much where they had been, with barely perceptible gains by Democrats in Washington.

So the GOP has formed one of those circular firing squads that often occur after disappointing elections, with various entities taking shots at each other for costing the party votes.

Much of that will work out over time. But one issue that now seems to be on the Republican agenda is new-found support for immigration reform.

This follows election results showing that Latino voters overwhelmingly went Democratic this election, helping Barack Obama and others in his party score wins. It's been noted that George W. Bush was able to capture 40 percent of the Latino vote, but Mitt Romney garnered just 27 percent.

The big reason? The view that Republican hostility to immigration reform had significant racial overtones to it.

After election results began to sink in, Republicans increasingly have called for rethinking the way the party handles immigration issues.

This could get interesting.

That's because immigration is one of those topics where the differences between Republicans and Democrats are fuzzy at best.

Many in both parties support more generous immigration rules, but there also is bipartisan opposition to such moves.

In fact, I think it's safe to say Republicans have picked up the support of traditionally Democratic working-class whites in recent elections with policies that oppose more liberal immigration rules. But that backing fails to offset growing Latino support for Democrats.

Historically, the business community has embraced liberal immigration policies. More immigrants mean more workers competing for jobs.

However, many conservatives view immigration (legal and illegal) as a means for outsiders to tap into America's entitlements, health care and other programs.

On the Democratic side, supporters of more open immigration tout this as part of the American dream. But some in the party object to expanded immigration because of the potential to lower labor costs and out of concern for the environment.

More people mean more consumption, more energy use, more sprawl and more degradation of nature.

So if both parties now say they want to reform immigration rules, does this take the issue off the political table? Not necessarily.

"Reform" comes in many shapes. The two parties may embrace immigration reform in theory, while continuing to squabble over it in practice.

You may have noticed that happens a lot in Washington.

-- Mitchel Olszak is a columnist for the New Castle (Pa.) News.

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