Democrats and many Republicans view the current immigration legislation now being considered in Congress primarily through a political prism. For Democrats, the new legislation presents the opportunity to add many millions of new immigrants — sympathetic to their party's perspective of larger and more "helpful" government — to the country's voting rolls and thus help bring about their dream of a permanent Democratic majority.
A direct representative statement of this perspective comes from Homeland Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who boldly predicted that her home state of Arizona would turn blue because of the influx of new immigrants.
Democrats also have high hopes for other states, like Texas. The new Democratic-backed organization there, "Battleground Texas", plans to engage the state's rapidly growing Latino population, as well as African-American voters and other Democratic-leaning constituencies that have been underrepresented at the ballot box in recent cycles. In Texas, as in Arizona, Democrats believe that the key to victory is though the large and growing Hispanic vote.
On the Republican side, some are in a state of acute panic. Even-handed and astute political reporter Josh Kraushaar has written, without a hint of either irony or snark that, "On immigration, Republican leaders are all but begging for a deal so they can improve their outreach with Hispanics well before the 2016 presidential election."
This of course, is a direct result of the 2012 presidential election, in which the president won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, while Mitt Romney won just 27 percent. Extrapolating from that result and the growing numbers of new Hispanic immigrants and voters even before any legalization legislation has passed, has led some, like the never uncertain Dick Morris to conclude that:
It is not enough for the Republican Party to acquiesce in a bipartisan bill for immigration reform — the scars its image bears in the Latino community run too deep for that. Republicans need to get out in front on the issue. Immigration reform needs to be a Republican bill. Only then can we hope to heal the scars left from the party's role in scuttling reform in 2005 and 2006.
Panic, real or imagined, is never a sound basis for public policy. Neither are visions of electoral sugarplums in the form of permanent majorities.
It would be foolish, of course, to deny that politics plays an important role in congressional legislation or in policy design for that matter. The parties represent different constituencies with viewpoints that deserve a hearing and have different views of what the right thing to do is. These are deeply entwined in considerations of political advantage. Moreover, major elements of both parties subscribe to the fiction that the public interest can be served by an outcome dictated by the application of raw political power. From that perspective, the struggle to control the narrative, frame the contours of any "compromise", and ensure that the actual statutory language bill further tilts the legislation in one direction is just one more illustration of politics as usual and a major reason why the public no longer trusts the government.
Next: Immigration and Trust in Government: R.I.P. Part 1