A study released today by the conservative Americas Majority Foundation warned Republicans that abandoning a comprehensive approach to immigration reform in favor of an enforcement only policy could hand several swing states to the Democrats in the 2008 election. “If the Republican Party renounces comprehensive immigration reform in favor of ‘enforcement only,’ Democrats will capture New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Florida, and Iowa in the upcoming presidential contest,” said Americas Majority Foundation (A.M.F.) research analyst Richard Nadler.

The study involved looking at 145,000 precincts and 175,000 voters to analyze actual voting shifts in parts of six congressional districts among Latino voters in the 2004 and 2006 elections. “In the Latino areas where candidates advocated a variant of ‘enforcement only,'” said Nadler, “support for Republicans dropped by more than 21 percentage points over a single cycle, and support for Democrats rose by an equivalent amount. But where Republican candidates supported comprehensive immigration reform – some combination of border control and guest-worker programs or earned legalization – the situation was quite different. There, Republicans lost roughly 4 percentage points, and Democrats gained 4 – a shift in line with national trends.”

The study found that in districts along the border the biggest concern of Latino voters was not border security, but the problems that are associated with illegal immigration. “There are nine congressional districts bordering Mexico,” he observes. “Bush carried five in 2004, and Kerry, four. The congressmen from these districts all advocate stiffer border controls. The problems associated with open borders are their constituents’ problems – drug smuggling, human trafficking, crime and overburdened social networks.”

Adler pointed out that it is possible for a candidate to be in favor of tougher border controls and not lose votes, but when they start talking about mass deportations, they lose Latino support. “A congressman can support rigorous measures — a border fence, electronic surveillance, increased Border Patrol, workplace ID, and expedited deportation for major crime – all without prejudicing his ability to attract Latino votes. But when a politician heads into the murky territory of mass deportations, or rejection of guest worker programs, or criminalization of the civil infractions of undocumented work, the political penalty he pays among Latinos is harsh and prompt.”

When Republicans start angering legal aliens with extreme policies towards illegal immigration, then they lose support. “Policies that induce mass fear in illegal aliens induce mass anger in legal aliens. The moral hazard associated with decades of non-enforcement of immigration laws becomes explicit with ‘enforcement-only.’ Ties of family, culture, and a shared media communicate the fears of the group directly threatened – the illegals – to other Latinos who are not. Participants in the immigration debate needn’t like this conclusion. But they had better understand it.”

I think all the GOP candidates who have been ignoring minorities and concentrating on their white base would be wise to read this report. For the past couple of decades the Republican Party has worked hard to cultivate Latino support, but it looks like the 2008 presidential candidates are on the verge of throwing all of that work away. I don’t understand why the top Republican candidates think they can win in 2008 by ignoring minorities. Thus far, the campaigns have ignored the urgings of even President Bush to reach out to minority voters.

What is interesting about this study is that it finds that legal immigrants are just as concerned about issues relating to a weak border as white voters. There is more than a twinge of racism to some of the opposition to a comprehensive immigration reform plan. This is another one of those issues where many Republican presidential candidates would rather appeal to the base of their party and lose a general election, instead of trying to find a realistic solution to the problem of illegal immigration.

You can download the full study right here. 

Jason Easley is the politics editor at www.411mania.com/politics His column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Jason is also the host of TPU Radio, which can be heard at www.blogtalkradio.com/thepoliticaluniverse every Sunday morning at 11 AM ET

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