Here's a statistic that should send chills down the spines of both Republicans and anti-immigration crusaders. According to the Wall Street Journal, "Exit polls showed more than seven in 10 Hispanics voted Democratic in races for House seats. Meanwhile, some 27 percent voted Republican -- an 11-percentage-point drop from the prior midterm election in 2002."
What could explain this shift? How about the Republican-dominated House's passage in December of H.R. 4437, the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act? Again, from the Journal: "In exit polls, 37 percent of Hispanic voters ranked illegal immigration as an issue that was 'extremely important' to them, compared with 29 percent of all racial demographic groups. In addition, 78 percent of Hispanic voters said most illegal immigrants should be given a chance to apply for legal status, compared with 57 percent from all demographic groups."
Is this the dawning of the age of the reconquista? Just how did illegal immigration play out in the 2006 midterms?
From the anti-immigration camp there has been some gnashing of teeth. Some of the nation's most vociferous opponents of illegal immigration got booted, including Arizona's J.D. Hayworth and Indiana's John Hostettler -- both incumbent House Republicans. Arizona Republican House candidate Randy Graf, a Minuteman, lost to Democrat Gabrielle Giffords in his campaign for a seat that Republicans had held for 22 years. All told, at least 11 members of Tom Tancredo's hard-line Immigration Reform Caucus won't be returning to Congress, leading Immigration Daily's Gregory Siskind to write:
Immigration was set to be the Republicans' secret political weapon this year, but a funny thing happened on the way to the election. While most Republicans promoted tough immigration positions that emphasized strong enforcement and an opposition to any kind of relief for undocumented immigrants, voters generally rejected this hard-line approach and supported candidates more likely to support comprehensive immigration reform proposals.
Siskind's characterization is not completely accurate. John Hostettler, for example, lost to a conservative Democrat, Brad Ellsworth, who also campaigned on a tough anti-illegal immigration platform. And Arizona voters passed several referendums, including an English-only law, that were aimed squarely at Hispanic immigrants and illegal immigration.
Some analysts are warning that the new majority party will find the issue of immigration just as divisive for them as it has been for the Republicans. The Hispanic voting numbers offer a clear reason why: Politics in California and the American Southwest, and by extension, the nation, will hinge on how Hispanics vote from here on out. Fence builders along the border should take note. Success at keeping Mexicans out of the U.S. may well wall themselves off from power.