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January 31, 2013

Hispanics' new clout is as good as gold

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The Daily Star

---- — When it comes to the Golden Rule, former House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Clarence “Doc” Long had his own definition.

“Them that’s got the gold,” he said, “makes the rules.”

Long was talking about actual money, but in these fractious political times, votes are as good as gold, and probably even more valuable.

What better explanation for the increased interest by the Republican Party and President Barack Obama in immigration reform?

While the fate of an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States has certainly been discussed in previous years, nothing has gotten the attention of politicians so much as the clout exhibited by Hispanics in the recent presidential election. Obama received a whopping 71 percent of their votes to only 27 percent for Mitt Romney, who took the non-Hispanic white vote by 20 percentage points.

Obama had not, as he promised in 2008, made immigration reform a priority in his first term, although he did issue an election-year executive order that prevented deportations of immigrants who came to America when they were very young.

Perhaps Romney’s difficulty with Hispanic voters had something to do with:

• His attacking Texas Gov. Rick Perry during the primary campaign for signing a state law that allowed some undocumented immigrants to get in-state college tuition.

• His response to Perry’s accusation that Romney hired illegal workers: “Look, you can’t have any illegals working on our property. I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake, I can’t have illegals.”

• His plan to make life so miserable for undocumented workers that they would “self-deport” themselves.

Statements by other Republican candidates didn’t exactly help Hispanics feel all warm and fuzzy about the GOP. Michele Bachmann advocated building two fences along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico, and Herman Cain wanted an electrified fence that could kill prospective illegal immigrants.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential candidate, has had a fascinating evolution on immigration reform. In 2007, he announced his support for a path to citizenship for some illegal residents.

Then, running in a 2010 GOP primary for his Senate seat against a right-wing radio host, McCain abandoned his previous position and demanded in a commercial that the federal government “complete the damned fence” that he had once derided.

Now, he’s back supporting a path to citizenship. Why?

“Elections,” he said, honestly. “Elections.”

The lesson, stated so eloquently by Doc Long, is obvious. If you want to change something, particularly in the political world, you have to have the means to do it. In this case, the means are millions of Hispanic votes.

Obama has noticed, and so, thankfully on this issue, have many Republicans.