Elections matter, one reason for the immigration reform proposals coming from President Obama and a bipartisan panel of U.S. senators in recent days.
Here are a few facts behind those moves: Republican Mitt Romney won among white voters, rich and poor, male and female, by an overall 59-39 percent last November. Because Obama had far larger margins among Latinos, blacks and Asian-Americans, Romney’s strong showing among whites didn’t win him the presidency.
Meanwhile, voting by Latinos is on an upswing in many currently safe GOP states like Texas and Georgia, causing freshman Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to observe that unless the GOP does something to win them over, Texas will become Democratic before another decade passes.
But that’s only part of the picture. It turns out the strong anti-illegal immigrant feeling behind GOP platforms, state and federal, for most of the last 20 years was on the wane long before the fall election.
Before the spring of 2012, legislative action in Arizona and Utah, two states whose governments are firmly controlled by Republicans, saw an uninterrupted flow of precedent-setting moves against illegal immigrants.
Police in Arizona now must stop anyone they so much as suspect of being in this country illegally, and demand documents. All employers there are required to use the national E-Verify system to determine whether any new hire was undocumented. And more. The U.S. Supreme Court ratified that E-Verify law.
The results for Arizona have been decidedly mixed so far. The state lost a few conventions to boycotts by liberal-leaning organizations. Thousands of illegal immigrants moved to other states, including an estimated 20,000 coming to California.
In Utah, where Republicans ousted two longtime GOP officeholders, Rep. Chris Cannon and Sen. Robert Bennett, because they did not vote for anti-illegal immigrant crackdowns, laws similar to Arizona’s had been moving through the state Legislature. But that suddenly halted last spring. One reason: Utah business leaders who usually back Republicans realized anti-illegal immigrant laws could hurt them.
The Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce noted a sharp increase in convention business after Arizona passed its stop-anyone-suspicious law. Hotels and restaurants didn’t want to lose that new business via Utah becoming a clone of its neighbor.
In Arizona, E-Verify caused many illegals to become independent contractors rather than employees. A study by the Public Policy Institute of California using U.S. Census numbers last spring put the number of new independent contractors in Arizona at 25,000 since E-Verify took effect. Businesses still hire illegals to wash cars and pick crops, but it’s off the books to a much greater extent than earlier.
Then Arizona’s anti-illegal immigrant leaders, notably former state Senate Republican leader Russell Pearce (author of the demand-documents law), failed miserably when they tried to expand their state’s push against the undocumented.
Pearce was recalled from office. Arizona’s Senate voted down one bill aiming to make that state the leader in a national push to end birthright citizenship, which makes any child born in America a U.S. citizen. The idea was to have hospitals issue different birth certificates to children of illegals than to other newborns. One reason it lost: The notion that many Latino illegals come to America mainly to get citizenship for their babies has been largely debunked by a Census finding that illegals who give birth in America have been in this country, on average, well over three years.
Also defeated were bills banning illegals from state universities and making it a crime for illegals to drive any vehicle in Arizona.
Dozens of chief executives of Arizona companies including U.S. Airways, hospitals and real estate developers, signed a letter calling for defeat of those bills, with the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce taking the lead.
About the same time, Utah adopted a state guest-worker bill much like what many Democrats in Congress long have pushed, favoring amnesty for illegals who have worked long periods in America. Utah now allows illegals who commit no crimes and have held jobs for years to work within the state and get “driving privilege cards.”
These moves came after the Salt Lake chamber and other organizations – in a move endorsed by the Mormon Church of Latter Day Saints – called for immigration laws to focus on families.
It was a far cry from the “illegal means illegal” approach taken earlier by Arizona.
So events in two very “red” Republican states signaled that the anti-illegal immigrant tide was fading long before anything happened at the national level. The fact that major Republicans are part of the new push for allowing amnesty does not mean anti-illegal immigrant feeling has disappeared. But it does indicate the wave has peaked and that GOP leaders know what they must do to survive in a changing America.