Who, beyond a few of the hardest of hard liners, stands against immigration reform now?
Three years ago, Rand Paul wanted to deny birthright citizenship. Now, he supports comprehensive reform. Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio … everybody seriously on anyone's screen to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2016 has a plan or proposal of some type to fix our immigration system.
And it's broken, no question. Today, it is easier to come here illegally than legally. Border security is a mess. Extremely high-paying technology jobs go unfilled for lack of qualified applicants. Low-skilled jobs are similarly hard to fill in some areas.
And politicians know the numbers. Today, the 52 million Latinos in America constitute 16.7 percent of the population and a significantly higher portion in important battleground states such as Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico. Even Texas could soon be in play thanks to an aggressive campaign there to turn the state blue. Latino populations also continue to grow rapidly in Arizona, North Carolina and Virginia. By 2039, more than a quarter of Americans ages 18-64 will be Latino.
And it's not like Republicans start from the high ground. Mitt Romney earned just 27 percent of the Latino vote in 2012. Latinos are the fastest-growing demographic in America. They hear terms such as self-deportation, and they think Republicans can't or won't be for them. Even President Obama has admitted it would help Republicans to get behind some proposal that improves immigration—both legal and what now constitutes illegal—and that shows a softer side toward this fast-emerging group.
So, with a "Gang of Eight" U.S. Senators—four from each party—expected to introduce legislation next month, it's likely Republicans, stung by the 2012 loss, will find their way to yes. Expect niggling over paths to citizenship and waiting periods and other restraints, but something amenable to Latino voters should pass.
The question is: Will it help?
The data is inconclusive. Latino Decisions, a polling group, says Latinos would be substantially more likely to consider voting for Republicans if they seemed supporting of comprehensive immigration reform. Haley Barbour, former head of the Republican National Committee and former governor of Mississippi, said one immigration bill won't do it, that it will take genuine and ongoing outreach to cut into the Democrats' advantage.
Steve Pearce, the Republican congressman from New Mexico, stands as evidence Barbour is right. He has won election five times—all with at least 55 percent of the vote and more than 40 percent of Latinos—in a district that is nearly half Latino and only a third Republican. Yet, he opposes the DREAM Act and believes those here illegally should return home and come back through legal means before they can be considered for citizenship. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus says he provides a model for how the GOP can win Latino votes.
How does he do it?
"It's about going out into the community, going to Mexican churches," Pearce told Fox News Latino. "Talk with them about family, about the economy, you build up a sense of knowledge about who you are, I explain my views of the economy, of the world, in pretty down to earth terms."
"The concept of outreach is fine, [b]ut it's also misplaced … Your job is to represent everybody. Get out and do your jobs. Go to where it's not comfortable, where people will ask you the hard questions," he said.
Barbour and Pearce are right. It's not transactional. Republicans kid themselves if they think one bill will change their standing with Latinos overnight. But if they work at it, if they take this step and then another in their districts to get to know the Latinos there and explain what they're for and why, it could be the beginning of something new and exciting.
But they better start soon. The demographic clock is ticking.