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Why the GOP is finally embracing immigration reform
The RNC and Senate Republicans lead the way in the GOP's quest to woo more Hispanic voters
Migrant workers load boxes onto a truck in Wellington, Colo.
Migrant workers load boxes onto a truck in Wellington, Colo. John Moore/Getty Images
T

he GOP appears ready for a big shift on immigration: Republicans on a bipartisan Senate committee are close to finalizing a plan that would allow undocumented workers to earn legal status after 10 years and citizenship three years after that, according according to The New York Times. Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee has officially endorsed immigration reform as part of a $10 million outreach to minorities.

Why exactly are Republicans changing their tune?

It might have something to do with Mitt Romney's garnering a paltry 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2012 election. In a country where one in four people ages 18 to 64 will be Latino by 2039 — according to new projections by The Associated Press — that just isn't going to cut it. A report released today by the RNC stresses the importance of appealing to the Hispanic population:

We must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party's appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only.... If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence. [via TIME]

In other words, as the report states, the GOP can't continue to be seen as the party of "stuffy old men." Nevertheless, getting every Republican on board with the proposal might not be so easy. NBC News' Michael O'Brien says that the idea of reform wasn't wildly popular at CPAC, where the only stance to get major applause at a panel on immigration was Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) saying, "It would be a travesty, in my opinion, to treat those who violated our laws to get here much better than those who have patiently waited their turn to come to the United States."

An early test of the RNC's new vision will be whether Senate Republicans back the plan, expected to be released in April and written up in part by Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), John McCain (Ariz.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), and Lindsey Graham (S.C.)

In what is seen as an attempt to make the proposed bill more palatable to GOP lawmakers, the authors state that under the plan, "illegal immigrants would have to pay back taxes, pay a hefty fine, and learn English before being eligible for green cards and citizenship." Even if such a suggestion is convincing enough, and the bill passes the Senate, it would still have to be approved by the Republican-led House, something that doesn't seem all that likely.

Still, let's say immigration reform does make it through Congress. It might not actually even be enough to attract Hispanic voters, says Matthew Cooper of National Journal:

Latinos have often been characterized as more socially conservative than most Americans. On some issues, such as abortion, that's true. But on others, such as acceptance of homosexuality, it is not. When it comes to their own assessments of their political views, Latinos, more so than the general public, say their views are liberal.... But it's on the question of big government that Hispanics stand most solidly with Democrats. The 2011 Pew Hispanic Center survey asked Latinos whether they would "pay higher taxes to support a larger government or pay lower taxes and have a smaller government." Hispanics backed higher taxes and more government by 75 percent to 19 percent. [National Journal]

Getting Republicans to embrace a 13-year path to citizenship? Difficult, but possible. Getting them to embrace big government? Don't hold your breath. 

Keith Wagstaff is a staff writer at TheWeek.com covering politics and current events. He has previously written for such publications as TIME, Details, VICE, and the Village Voice.

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