Hispanic vote may not be the game changer once thought

| April 25 2012
Christopher Cook

In the previous post, we discuss the ongoing fight over Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB 1070. Illegal immigration certainly has been a hot-button issue, and one of special intensity over the last decade. But what if, in terms of the numbers, illegal immigration is not the urgent situation it once was?

The Pew Hispanic Center has recently produced research suggesting that the net migration rate has fallen to zero, and may even have gone negative:

Among the report’s key findings:

  • In the five-year period from 2005 to 2010, about 1.4 million Mexicans immigrated to the United States and about 1.4 million Mexican immigrants and their U.S.-born children moved from the United States to Mexico.
  • In the five-year period a decade earlier (1995 to 2000), about 3 million Mexicans had immigrated to the U.S. and fewer than 700,000 Mexicans and their U.S. born-children had moved from the U.S. to Mexico.
  • This sharp downward trend in net migration has led to the first significant decrease in at least two decades in the number of unauthorized Mexican immigrants living in the U.S.—to 6.1 million in 2011, down from a peak of nearly 7 million in 2007. Over the same period the number of authorized Mexican immigrants rose modestly, from 5.6 million in 2007 to 5.8 million in 2011.

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This result would not be surprising. Economic advancement is the reason most often cited for immigration of Mexicans and others from Latin America into the United States. If the opportunities for said advancement are diminished, then it is likely that reduced incentive will produce reduced migration.

Pew cites other potential factors as well:

The standstill appears to be the result of many factors, including the weakened U.S. job and housing construction markets, heightened border enforcement, a rise in deportations, the growing dangers associated with illegal border crossings, the long-term decline in Mexico’s birth rates and changing economic conditions in Mexico.

This is yet another example of how situations that seem to be stable, unchanging, or unavoidable often change themselves. In recent years, illegal immigration has been presumed to be a unidirectional and permanent situation. Granted, if the U.S. economy picks up, then one presumes that inward migration will once again increase. The other factors listed above may mitigate it in comparison to what it might be in the absence of said factors, but it surely would increase at least to some degree. But it is interesting to note that it is not as much of a fait accompli as it has perhaps previously appeared to be.

One area that this has a potentially surprising impact is in electoral politics. Hispanic immigration to the U.S., coupled with the levels of support that Hispanics give to Democrats, was presumed to be a seismic electoral situation, one that might even doom the Republican Party to eventual demographic extinction.

Not so fast . . .

For Democrats, the expected long-term explosion of Latino voters may not end up materializing.  While there was a significant spike in the Hispanic population at the first half of the last decade, the economic recession and tighter immigration crackdowns have slowed that to a trickle.  It’s not a given that Hispanic voters will make a larger share of the electorate than in 2008, as many in the Obama campaign had presumed (and depended upon). Already Democrats are facing challenges registering Hispanic voters in battleground states, like Arizona.

The long-term political implications are equally significant.  Democrats have counted Hispanics as a pivotal part of their coalition, but there’s no guarantee that as first-generation immigrants assimilate, they will remain reliable partisan voters.   Indeed, a complementary Pew Hispanic Center study, released last month, showed immigrants becoming more Republican the longer they’ve been in this country — a similar narrative to other first-generation ethnic groups.

There’s more useful information in the short piece, so read the whole thing. In the long run, both Republicans and Democrats may end up having to rethink previous assumptions on “permanent” situations.

How do you say “plus ça change, plus ç’est la meme chose” in Spanish?

 

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