Pressure mounts on GOP to back reform

By Brana Vlasic

WASHINGTON – The House’s failure to pass immigration reform could create political trouble for a growing number of Republican representatives from districts with sharply rising Latino and Asian populations.

The problem is especially apparent in California, where Latino and Asian populations in Republican districts are triple the national average. Both groups gave President Barack Obama more than 70 percent of their votes in 2012.

In four California districts, the 2012 election results were so close that the incumbents’ margin of victory is smaller than the projected number of new eligible Latino and Asian voters turning 18 by 2014, according to an analysis by Tom Wong, a political science professor at the University of California San Diego.

As the number of voting age Latinos and Asians grows, there is mounting political pressure on Republicans to support an immigration measure that would create a path to citizenship for some of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.

“Latinos in California and across the nation are a huge demographic,” said Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, whose district is more than 40 percent Latino. His 10th district includes Tracy, Manteca, Escalon and Ripon and portions of rural southern San Joaquin County.

Denham recently announced his support for a bill introduced by House Democrats that includes a path to citizenship. This comes despite Denham’s previous opposition to California’s version of the DREAM Act and his support for Arizona’s controversial anti-immigration law. The changing demographics of Denham’s district help explain why he is one of only three House Republicans to have endorsed the Democratic bill.

Denham won the 2012 election by roughly 11,000 votes over former astronaut Jose Hernandez, a Manteca Democrat. According to Wong’s analysis, there are 26,000 Latinos and Asians in his district who will turn 18 by 2014. Similar numbers confront Republicans Howard “Buck” McKeon from Palmdale, Gary Miller from Rancho Cucamonga and David Valadao from Bakersfield.

“As members look at the issue, they need to understand the changing demographics in the future,” Denham said.

The Senate passed an immigration bill in June and Democrats have introduced a similar bill in the House.

Stockton Democrat Jerry McNerney, whose 9th district includes Stockton, Lodi and much of San Joaquin County and is roughly 40 percent Latino, is a co-sponsor of the bill.

It is not clear that Republicans will schedule a vote, and Democrats are using the GOP’s hesitation to bring the bill to the floor to depict them as unsympathetic to immigrants.

The conventional wisdom is that many Republicans don’t have to worry as much as those representing California. The average Republican-led district is just 11 percent Latino and three percent Asian, according to Wong’s analysis.

But some members warn changing demographics could tip a close election and said the Republican Party will need to address immigration reform more if it wants to win in the future.

“On a national scale, for someone that wants to be president or be more of a national figure, I think they need to be smart on immigration and they have to pay attention and be part of the solution,” said Valadao, whose district is roughly 73 percent Latino.

Like Denham, Valadao has announced his support for the Democratic immigration bill.

But very few Republicans are following Denham and Valadao’s lead despite the rise in Latino voters.

“Over 2,000 Latino citizens across the country are turning 18 each day,” said Clarissa Martinez from the National Council La Raza.

Wong noted that the demographic changes may not immediately translate into turnout, pointing out that not all eligible 18-year-olds are going to register and vote. “Demography is not destiny,” he said.

By 2060, the Hispanic population will double to more than 128.8 million, which means that one in three U.S. residents will be Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In California, the Latino and white populations are roughly equal, which is among the reasons the Republicans have had such difficulty winning statewide elections.

Wong said that Republicans could learn from members such as Denham, who have exhibited more flexibility on immigration issues. “California represents what the U.S. will look like in the future,” he said. “What California’s House Republicans are doing vis-a-vis immigration – Jeff Denham being a good example – should be on the radar for Republicans as a whole for this reason: they know how to win elections in diverse constituencies.”

The California News Service-Washington is a project of the University of California’s Washington Center and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Contact CNS at

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