Why Do Evangelicals And Dems Want Immigration Reform?

Late last week, Our Dear Overlords at Religion Dispatches demanded an explanation of Dan Gilgoff’s secret intelligence cable listing “Obama’s evangelical cabinet on immigration reform.” Being a humble, craven paycheck blogger, I immediately agree with whatever Our Dear Overlords order, no matter how seemingly arbitrary. And so it was in this case, pausing only for a three-day weekend. It turns out the Overlords have a weakness for the “church and family time” excuse. Who knew?

In any event, I don’t have much to say about the “evangelical cabinet” itself, other than that a number of them have advocated for the “broader social agenda” among evangelicals, about which more in a moment.

As for why the Obama administration and more-or-less conservative evangelical leaders might find common ground on the immigration issue, it’s simple math. Demographics explain why Democrats want immigration reform:

Hispanics will drive minority growth above all. Their numbers will triple to 133 million by 2050 from 47 million today, while the number of non-Hispanic whites will remain essentially flat. Hispanics will double as a percentage of the population from 15 percent to 30 percent. The population of Asian Americans will also come close to doubling, going from 5 percent to 9 percent. The number of blacks, however, will grow only from 14 percent to 15 percent of the population, making them only half the size of the Hispanic population by 2050. The foreign-born percentage in the population will also grow, reflecting the growth of nonblack minorities. By 2050, about one in five Americans will be foreign born, up from one in eight today.

Hispanics also have historic ties to the Democrats, if not as strong as blacks’ ties. But they are as strong or stronger in their support for active government, the safety net, and generous government service provisions. And the issue of immigration looms large, with Democrats viewed overwhelmingly as the most favorable party to immigrants. In the same Gallup analysis quoted above, Hispanics’ party identification was 53 percent Democratic to 21 percent Republican, a 32 point pro-Democratic gap. The last survey from the authoritative Pew Hispanic Center, conducted in mid-2008, had a larger 39-point gap in the Democrats’ favor (65-26).

Asian Americans, perhaps surprisingly, are now about as Democratic-oriented as Hispanics. They show strong support for Democratic stands on active government and immigration. Asians’ party identification favored Democrats by 61-24 in the 2010 Gallup analysis—a 37-point gap even larger than that among Hispanics in the same analysis. And Asian Americans were the only race-ethnic group where self-identified liberals (31 percent) outnumbered self-identified conservatives (a mere 21 percent).

That’s a whole lot of reasons to want to get immigration reform today. If Democrats can push the platform through, they might be able to lock in the key demographic for the next forty or fifty years. For a politician, that’s almost as good as dropping an anvil on your opponent’s head.

But why would the evangelicals be so interested in immigration reform? Partly, it’s the demographics again. Hispanics are a vibrant and growing part of the evangelical community.

Don’t neglect the generational politics of that community, though. Millenials (those born between 1978 and 2000), writes Ruy Teixeira, hold progressive positions on any number of issues:

On social issues, Millennials support gay marriage, take race and gender equality as givens, are tolerant of religious and family diversity, have an open and positive attitude toward immigration, and generally display little interest in fighting over the divisive social issues of the past. They are also notably progressive on foreign policy issues, and favor a multilateral and cooperative foreign policy more than their elders. Millennials, more so than other generations, want a stronger government to make the economy work better, help those in need, and provide more services. These views extend to a range of domestic policy issues including education, clean energy, and, especially, health care.

Among evangelicals, the Millennials are the most tolerant cohort, “less likely to identify as conservative [and] more supportive of government solutions to social problems,” most in favor of that “broader social agenda.” Immigration is a two-fer for evangelical leaders: it helps them keep their base and with any luck expand upon it.

With a sitting administration and leaders of one of the most powerful religious constituencies behind reform, why isn’t it happening now? For one thing, as powerful as he might be, the President is not a magician. Obama’s already pushed through a mountainous legislative agenda, perhaps as much as he can for the year. For another, this. Republicans are determined to cut their noses off to spite their face—and the President. The “party of ‘no'” seems hell-bent on remaining also the minority party for the foreseeable future. I hope Our Dear Overlords will forgive me a moment of chuckling over their prospects.

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