House Republicans convened their first hearing on immigration reform on Tuesday and made clear that they were scared to death of immigrants actually getting the vote. Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia set the tone when he made clear he was looking for a mid-range position somewhere between deporting and granting citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. A nice, safe legal “resident” status, he suggested, never to be upgraded to that of citizen and voter.
San Antonio’s Democratic Mayor Julian Castro took understandable exception to this idea in his testimony before the committee. “I just cannot imagine an America where we assign these folks to an underclass status,” he told the congressmen. Then again, Southern whites—the core of the modern Republican Party—have had historically high comfort levels with just such arrangements. Perhaps they should propose counting these non-citizen residents as three-fifths of a person in the next census.
Should House Republicans refuse to support a process enabling the undocumented to become citizens, it’s a foregone conclusion that Republicans’ support among Latino (and likely Asian) voters will continue to plummet. That’s not likely to result in unseating many House Republicans, who hail from disproportionately white districts, but it will put the White House and an increasing number of Senate seats out of the GOP’s reach for at least the next few election cycles. It will also mean that if and when these currently undocumented immigrants do in fact win citizenship and the franchise, their support for Republican candidates will be microscopic.