Thursday, July 29, 2010




Both Republicans and Democrats continually cloak their positions on immigration amnesty with declarations of morality: Republicans say it’s a crime to be in this country without proper documents, while Democrats maintain it would be inhumane to deny basic services to millions of persons who came to this country mostly to better their lot in life.

Both stances mask the political realities that come with immigration amnesty, no matter how arduous a path might be established for any current illegal immigrant to win permanent legal status in America.

The No. 1 reality at work here is what follows the final step in the citizenship ceremony that is the ultimate end of any amnesty program: As new citizens file out of the ceremony where they've sworn an oath of allegiance to the United States, they always pass a table where they can register to vote.

Before 1994, new citizens of Hispanic origin – most from Mexico, with many from Central America – regularly registered Democratic by margins of about 7-3. But the numbers changed dramatically after 1994, when passage of California’s Proposition 187 threatened to withdraw all public services from illegals. Since then, more than 85 percent of new citizens from Mexico and Central America have registered Democratic.

Many voters registering in the late 1990s were former illegals granted amnesty and a path to citizenship under a 1986 law written by former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, a Republican, and signed by then-President Ronald Reagan, a Republican icon.

Since 1994, more than 3 million new Hispanic citizens have been sworn in just in California, the vast majority declaring themselves Democrats, even though Republicans were directly responsible for their legalization.

This is the single largest reason for California’s swing from a state where Republicans consistently won major offices like governor and U.S. senator to one no Republican presidential candidate has carried in 22 years. Muscleman movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger is the only GOP candidate to win a top-of-the-ticket race here in the 16 years since Pete Wilson won reelection as governor by backing Proposition 187 to the hilt and running his infamous “they keep coming” commercials that decried illegal immigration.

So it’s no wonder Democrats want further amnesties and Republicans won’t hear of them. It’s no wonder Republican state legislators passed Arizona’s anti-illegal immigrant law while almost every Democrat who could voted against it.

If there’s one California area where the impact of Hispanic voters is most telling, it just might be San Bernardino County, a longtime bellwether that voted for the presidential candidate who won the national popular vote in every election from 1948 through the end of the 20th Century.

While less than 8 percent of San Bernardino County residents were foreign born 30 years ago, the figure had climbed to 18 percent in 2008. Reagan took 60 percent of the county’s 1980 vote, but fellow Republican John McCain polled only 46 percent two years ago.

That’s a change not at all unique to one county. In a state where only 8.5 million persons voted in 1994, the figure was over 10 million in 2008, an increase of 1.5 million or almost 18 percent – most of them Hispanics. It’s pretty easy to see that when you add so many voters and between 65 percent and 75 percent of them consistently vote as a bloc for one party, that party – the Democrats – will get a major advantage.

For Republicans, this is a vicious cycle. They campaign heavily against immigration amnesty, but every poll of Hispanic voters indicates that issue is their top priority. Yet, it would be oxymoronic to expect any Republican to favor amnesty in light of what amnesty has done to the party. That’s why the primary election season saw so much hard-line “no amnesty” talk from gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman and her springtime challenger Steve Poizner. It also explains why Whitman flip-flopped almost immediately after the primary and began promoting herself as much softer on illegal immigration than she was in the spring.

Democrats, meanwhile, often say they favor amnesty, while doing little about it. But they almost never take the same hard-line stance against illegal immigrants as Republicans. So they’re not precisely pleasing their new Hispanic adherents, but they’re not alienating them, either. If they ever do produce a new amnesty, chances are it would provide another long-term boost for their party.

All of which means there will be no position changes soon for either major party. And that in turn makes it unlikely there will be any real change soon on the immigration front.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit