Why the GOP won't be able to stall immigration reform forever

Americans increasingly prefer the Democratic Party's stance on immigration

Protesters call for immigration reform
(Image credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Immigration reform has stalled in the House, where it is expected to die a slow and painful death because of resistance from conservative Republicans.

This is not what the GOP establishment wants, as evidenced by the Republican National Committee's 2012 autopsy report warning about the party's poor performance with Hispanics. It's not what Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and several other Republican senators want either, after pushing through a bipartisan immigration overhaul. Many of the potential Republican presidential candidates for 2016 — including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) — have publicly backed some kind of path to citizenship.

Unlike senators, who must make an appeal to moderates statewide, Republicans in the House campaign in smaller, often politically homogenous districts that remain suspicious of immigration reform. It hasn't helped that opinion-shapers in the conservative base, i.e. talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, have rallied against it.

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The nation as a whole, however, is moving the other way. A new Gallup poll shows that 48 percent of adults in America feel like the Democratic Party's stance on immigration reform is closer to their own, compared to only 36 percent who identify with the GOP's immigration policies:

Even scarier for Republicans is that 60 percent of Hispanics say their views on immigration align with those of the Democratic Party. That is bad news for politicians in red states that have seen dramatic growth in their Latino populations from 2000 to 2011, including South Carolina (154 percent), Kentucky (132 percent), and Arkansas (123 percent). Democrats are eyeing solidly Republican Texas as a future blue state, a sign of just how much the political landscape is changing thanks to shifting demographics.

Furthermore, as long as immigration remains an issue, the tougher it will be for a Republican to win the White House.

Polls like this are pushing even some die-hard conservatives, like Sal Russo, co-founder of the Tea Party Express, to change their tune on what they call amnesty.

"It's an important principle, but of course, politics is about the realities of things," Russo tells The National Journal. "It's a difficult thing for some people to swallow, but at the end of the day people think we have to fix the immigration system."

"The issue is, can we deal with the problems we have in this country — it's not just immigration — can we deal with them compassionately, without being haters, and stay consistent to our conservative principles?" asks Rep. Blake Farenhold (R-Fla.) at The Weekly Standard. "And I think we can do it with immigration. I think a pathway to legalization is a good compromise. It would get a lot of Republicans on board."

But it may take at least one more presidential defeat before the unthinkable — compromise — becomes a reality.

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Keith Wagstaff is a staff writer at TheWeek.com covering politics and current events. He has previously written for such publications as TIME, Details, VICE, and the Village Voice.