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Midterm Elections Impact Immigration Debate's Future


The dramatic change in the makeup of Congress could have major implications for immigration reform. President Obama acknowledged that at the White House today and said he would welcome Republican cooperation on the issue.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I have consistently said that it is my profound preference and interest to see Congress act on a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

BLOCK: But the lack of White House action on immigration is pointed to as one of the reasons why Democrats failed to turn out their base yesterday. Hansi Lo Wang of NPR's code switch team reports.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: This summer, President Obama stepped away from his pledge to take executive action on immigration, a delay Democrats in red states believed would help them survive in the Senate. But most of those vulnerable Democrats fell last night. And Cristina Jimenez, managing director of United We Dream which advocates for young immigrants, says this strategy backfired.

CRISTINA JIMENEZ: The president's decision to delay right before going into the midterm elections definitely made it a lot harder for Latinos to feel like they will want to engage.

WANG: And early exit polls show she may have a point. Hispanics made up 8 percent of voters this year. Compare that to 10 percent in 2012. Midterm voter turnout is usually low, particularly for voters of color, but this issue may have played a role for Latino voters.

SYLVIA MANZANO: Immigration has been either the top priority or the second-ranked priority over, at least, the last four years.

WANG: That's Sylvia Manzano of the polling group Latino Decisions. Their survey this week found that 45 percent of Latino voters ranked immigration reform above jobs, education reform and healthcare.

MANZANO: You know, in places where you have very large U.S.-born, native-born proportions of the Latino electorate, they're not immigrants themselves and yet there is an increasing urgency about this issue.

WANG: President Obama says he's looking for bipartisan solutions, yet he's still holding on to the possibility of taking executive action. But Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies which favors stricter immigration laws, says there would be political consequences.

MARK KRIKORIAN: It would unite the Republicans against him even more than they are now. And there would be serious attempts to use the power of the purse to defund whatever it is that he announces.

WANG: Krikorian says that doesn't mean Republicans can ignore the concerns of Latinos.

KRIKORIAN: The challenge is how do they attract Hispanic voters without alienating their own Republican base?

WANG: One way, says Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, an immigrant advocacy group, is for Republicans to take the reins on the issue.

ALI NOORANI: There will be an immigration debate in the next Congress, and the success of that debate will be determined by Republicans. You know, they can claim credit for not only fixing the immigration system, but solving the gridlock that's overcome D.C.

WANG: In the meantime, it's a game of wait-and-see in Washington. And Cristina Jimenez of United We Dream says we'll see who wins that game in 2016.

JIMENEZ: We know that both parties need the Latino vote if they want to gain the White House. And the message that we are sending is that you don't have the support of the Latino and immigrant community yet.

WANG: And the countdown has already begun. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.