What's behind GOP's desperate immigration move

Trump's new immigration plan sparks debate
Trump's new immigration plan sparks debate


    Trump's new immigration plan sparks debate


Trump's new immigration plan sparks debate 03:53

Story highlights

  • Errol Louis: Some in the GOP want to close the spigot on the flow of immigrants that are likely to vote Democratic
  • For many Republicans, changing the rule is a political life-or-death issue, he writes

Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

(CNN)The Trump administration has shifted its approach on health care repeal, tax reform, infrastructure and other major campaign promises.

That's not going to happen with immigration.
Why? Trump's avid support of newly proposed immigration legislation reflects a longstanding fear among some conservative Republicans that our current, family-based immigration system will result in millions of new African, Asian and Latin American newcomers -- people who will eventually acquire full citizenship and end up voting for Democrats.
    Sen. Flake on Trump's immigration bill
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      Sen. Flake on Trump's immigration bill


    Sen. Flake on Trump's immigration bill 00:46
    Conservative pundit Ann Coulter laid out the problem succinctly in her 2015 book, "Adios, America." "There is simply no reason for Republicans to legalize 30 million people who will vote 8-2 against them," she wrote.
    From a strategy perspective, she has a point. "The number of Hispanic immigrant eligible voters is projected to double, from 3.3 million in 2000 to a projected 6.6 million in 2016," reports the Pew Research Center.
    Between 2012 and 2016, a hefty 1.2 million Latino immigrants became eligible to vote, and according to sociologist Mindy Romero, "by 2040, the US Census Bureau projects that Latinos will be 28.6% of the total US population, up from the current 17%."
    This growing group of Latinos is clustered in swing states like Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Nevada. And when they go to the polls, they tend to vote for Democrats.
    In the 2010 midterms, 60% of Latinos voted for Democrats. That number increased to 62% in 2014, and in 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton got 65% of their votes.
    All of which has been noted by Republican strategists with alarm. Trump's victory depended on a surge among white voters and lower participation by blacks, but that pattern is not guaranteed to repeat in the future.
    The solution, according to Coulter and other movement Conservatives, is to change the rules of the system, which, they say, encourages so-called "chain migration" by giving preference in the immigration system to family members of current immigrants.
    By replacing family preference with extra points for speaking English, bringing money or holding an advanced degree -- as the new legislation, supported by the Trump administration, proposes -- conservatives hope to close the spigot on the flow of immigrants likely to vote Democratic.
    As the right-leaning Center for Immigration Studies has pointed out, "if legal immigration levels remain at the current levels of over one million a year, it will likely continue to undermine Republicans' political prospects moving forward. ... Conversely, lowering the level of legal immigration in the future would help stem the decline in the Republican vote."
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    For many Republicans, changing the rule is a political life-or-death issue. As Coulter warns, "there's no sense in arguing about any other political issue. If we lose immigration, we lose everything."
    That logic means Republicans will likely put up a ferocious battle to change the rules on immigration. This will engage not just the White House, but the broader party, which sees the fight as a matter of political survival.