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Immigration Political Dynamics

By Bruce Bartlett

The immigration bill may be dead for now, but the political forces behind it have not gone away. Those will continue to impact both major political parties for many years to come.

The basic force is that Hispanics are increasing as a share of the population. According to the latest data from the Census Bureau, there were 44.3 million Hispanics in the United States as of July 1, 2006, constituting 14.8 percent of the population. And they are the fastest-growing ethnic group, accounting for about half the growth of population during the previous year -- 1.4 million out of a total increase of 2.9 million.

It is extremely unlikely that the number of Hispanics or their percentage of the population will decline anytime in the near future. Even if the 12 million illegals among them are not granted amnesty, the likelihood of mass deportation is virtually nonexistent. Like it or not, they are here to stay -- and all we are really negotiating is the terms.

Once one accepts that this country will have a large and expanding Hispanic population for many years to come, one has to consider the political implications. It doesn't really matter that those currently here illegally cannot vote, because their children will. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees that everyone born on American soil is a citizen, with all the rights that confers, and it is extremely unlikely that this provision will ever be repealed. Therefore, we must accept the reality that Hispanics will be a rising political force whether or not amnesty is conferred and border enforcement is increased.

According to exit surveys from the last several national elections, Hispanics vote Democratic over Republican by about a seven-to-three margin. There is no reason to think this will change anytime soon. Consequently, the more Hispanics there are in this country, the better it is for the Democrats.

The White House has deluded itself into thinking that Republicans may be able to win a larger percentage of Hispanic voters by championing immigration reform. As Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute points out, however, there was no wave of increased Hispanic support for Republicans after the 1986 amnesty backed by Ronald Reagan. Anyway, even if immigration reform gets enacted on George W. Bush's watch, Democrats will get the vast bulk of the credit since most of the opposition comes from Republicans in Congress.

An article in Sunday's New York Times notes that the rising importance of Hispanics has changed the dynamics of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. All the major candidates are carefully courting the Hispanic vote with advertisements in Spanish-language media outlets and other outreach efforts.

One inevitable consequence of this is that other groups are going to get less attention in the future. The most important of these are blacks, who have been the Democrats' favorite minority since the 1960s. But they are now the second largest minority group in America, with a population of 40.2 million. And their growth rate is less than half that of Hispanics.

As Hispanics grow in political importance, blacks are necessarily going to see their position within the Democratic Party decline. When the next Democratic president is elected, more appointments will go to Hispanics, fewer will go to blacks. Hispanic concerns about issues such as trade with Mexico are going to take precedence over black concerns about jobs, and so on.

The reality is that blacks and Hispanics are natural political rivals. Since both groups belong overwhelmingly to the Democratic Party, one's gains will tend to come at the other's expense. This is true in other areas, as well. Blacks increasingly complain that Hispanics are pushing them out of public housing, taking their jobs and occupying minority slots in university admissions.

This is not a new development. As long ago as 1881, Frederick Douglass, the great black leader, complained that blacks suffered from immigration. "Every hour sees us elbowed out of some employment to make room for some newly arrived emigrant from the Emerald Isle, whose hunger and color entitle him to special favor," he wrote.

Hispanics have replaced the Irish of Douglass' day, but the same principle still applies. Harvard economist George Borjas has shown that increased immigration tends to force down black wages and raise black unemployment. Last month, the unemployment rate was 8.1 percent for blacks, but only 5.3 percent for Hispanics.

For these reasons, I think blacks should reconsider their blind loyalty to the Democratic Party. At the same time, Republicans should recognize that blacks' concerns about immigration give them a far better chance of attracting their votes than those of Hispanics. Once Bush is gone, the party will almost certainly become overwhelmingly anti-immigrant. Thus there is a strong mutual interest that could form the basis for a new alliance between blacks and Republicans.

Copyright 2007 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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