(tradingeconomics.com; The chart depicts the average number of children born to every woman in Mexico.)
This is one big reason why it’s not likely we’ll see 1990s or 2000s levels of illegal immigration again.
The prime demographic group for unauthorized immigration is 20- to 40-year-old men. In the year 2000, a 20- to 40-year old Mexican man who is immigrating illegally would have been, on average, one of about 6.7 children born to the same mother.
That fertility number started to plummet starting in 1970, and has continued to fall. A lot of demographers think it’ll probably fall below that of the United States. Mexicans born after 1970 are therefore likely to face a better labor market environment at home, without such a big similarly aged population to compete with for jobs. People in the prime demographic for unauthorized immigration will increasingly have been born during times with lower and lower fertility rates. In the future, there simply won’t be, proportionally, as many potential immigrants as there were in the past.
The risk of a big influx of illegal immigration is falling, even notwithstanding border security.
Do white people become more conservative as minority populations rise? Ryan Enos of Harvard writes in the Washington Post today, presenting some evidence that this happens. The potential ramification is that Democrats may not reap all the political benefits of a diversifying country. Consequently, Republican attempts to build bridges to minority constituencies by doing things like supporting immigration reform may not be as politically necessary as some believe.
The idea of this type of reaction among white voters certainly isn’t far-fetched. However, for one point, it’s worth noting some seeming weaknesses in Enos’s research design (like the claim in the commuter train experiment that subjects came into contact “for just minutes each day, with two more Latinos than they would otherwise see or interact with,” when the experiment seems to have no real way of knowing how many Latinos they are encountering after they leave the platform).
Beyond that, though, there are other compelling reasons that Republicans are worried about the trend toward diversity. Specifically, notwithstanding the political psychology research, where electorates have become more diverse, Republicans have actually lost elections.
It could be unfair to point to California, one of the country’s most radically diverse states, but twenty years ago it was a swing state and now it could not conceivably vote for a Republican in a presidential election. There are now about almost as many Hispanics in California as non-Hispanic whites, and this increase has drowned out any trend toward conservatism among white voters.
A more subtle case might be Virginia, which has a fast-growing Asian population that is concentrated in the Washington, D.C. area. At the same time, Asian immigrants are not a growing presence in the coal-minded southwest part of the sate. Amid this trend, Fairfax County has become much more Democratic-supporting than when George W. Bush won it in 2000, while in the stagnantly homogenous southwestern part of the state, voters have increasingly supported Republicans. Democrats have come out ahead, with Obama winning Virginia twice, and being the first Democrat in 44 years to win it at all.
Look at this telling cartogram.
The point is that these political-demographic changes aren’t a speculative phenomenon where the political psychology research is the only thing illuminating what it might all mean for the parties. Instead, there are actual election results that have shown in strong terms that Republicans could have a lot to lose. This has been compelling motivation for many Republicans to reevaluate immigration reform.
So, here’s the immigration reform situation as it seems right now:
Superficially, it looks as if some kind of immigration reform compromise, including the “gang of eight” version, probably will have the ability to gain the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster in the Senate. The problem then lies in the House.
John Boehner, who appears to sympathize with the establishment Republican opinion that the 2012 election proves something needs to happen with immigration, seems interested in having some kind of immigration reform bill voted on, even if it doesn’t have the support of most of his caucus. Currently the House has 200 Democrats, 232 Republicans, and three vacant seats, which will presumably be filled by 1 Democrat and 2 Republicans. Assuming a small handful of conservative Democrat defect on an immigration reform measure, about 20 Republican votes would be needed to pass a bill through the House.
Given the tailwinds behind an immigration reform bill, at first glance, that doesn’t seem too bad!
To look at it another way, a likely threshold vote for passing a bill seems to be at about at the theoretical 20th most-supportive Republican Congressman. But a major fault line seems to be unfolding between the Senate “gang of eight” compromise, which would offer a broad path to citizenship for most current undocumented immigrants conditional upon meeting border-security targets, and the feelings of House Republicans. In House Judiciary Committee hearings earlier this week, Republicans seemed unsupportive of any path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants apart from DREAMers, expressing a preference to give them permanent legal status but no path to become citizens. Raul Labrador, one of the House Republicans supposedly working on a bipartisan House compromise bill, has said that House Republicans won’t go for any kind of broad path to citizenship. This could be the part of the bill that either gains or loses the support of the 20th-most-supportive Republican.
It’s unclear how heavily the GOP House leadership might pressure their members to vote for a bill, but assuming that they’re left relatively free, then it may seem plausible that how Republicans vote could, in many circumstances, come down to district-by-district dynamics.
On the one hand, Dave Wasserman points out:
So far, the average House Democrat sits in a 44.3% Non-Hispanic White district, while the average Republican sits in a 72.2% NH-W CD—
Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) February 03, 2013
On the other hand, Bloomberg notes that numbers of Hispanic voters are growing inside Republican districts, placing more pressure on Republicans to support broader immigration reform measures. Of the 100 Congressional districts with the largest Hispanic populations, 32 are represented by Republicans. If an immigration reform bill with a broad path to citizenship would need 20 Republican votes to (barely) pass, then it may seem intuitive that many of these 20 votes could come from these 32 members.
Which of these versions is right? When you look at it district-by-district, it seems pretty clear that the demographics of Republican-held districts will do quite little to help immigration reformers.
I put together some data on the 100 Congressional districts with the largest number of Latino residents (based on the latest estimates from the American Community Survey), and then pulled out the data for the 32 of those that are represented by Republicans (which you can look at on a spreadsheet here).
|Party||St||#||Population||Hispanics||Pct Hisp.||Representative||Cook PVI||% margin ’12|
|R||CA||50||724,472||215,415||29.73%||Duncan D. Hunter||R+14||35.4%|
Some caveats. First, the decision to cut off this look at the district with the 100th most Hispanic residents is somewhat arbitrary. But at that point, the districts are around 23 percent Hispanic, below which it seems rather remote that a Congressman might face a backlash from Hispanic voters that turns out to be electorally significant. To spell this out, the electorate will usually be significantly less Hispanic than the Hispanic population: Overall, Latinos were 10 percent of the 2012 electorate, despite being more than 16 percent of the population, and this number is usually lower in mid-term elections like the ones coming up in 2014. On average, if your district is only 20 percent Latino (still above the national average), then a relatively large, 10-point difference in the Latino vote (made unlikely by the fact that Latinos already vote about 70 percent Democrat anyway) will equate to about a 1.2 percent change in the outcome. This could make a big difference in very close races, but for the sake of simplicity, the percentages around the 100th-most-Latino district make a sensible cutoff. Second, of course looking at the gross Latino population simplifies significant diversity within Hispanic populations. And third, there are plenty of reasons for other populations to be interested in paths to citizenship, especially because a significant number of undocumented immigrants is Asian. But, for the sake of simplicity, this sample of 32 Republicans is useful.
While these 32 GOP members would at first seem like the natural place to get 20 votes for a broad legalization measure, actually looking at the numbers leads you to a few clear observations:
Most Republicans who represent the most Hispanics in their districts are already in safe Republican districts.
Very few of these members seem likely to be under routine electoral threat in their current districts (which are very likely to have the same boundaries through the 2020 elections). Only one represents a district that leans Democratic on average. (Peter King’s Long Island district is rated as “even.”) The median Cook PVI for these districts is R+12, which means that the median district is 12 points more Republican than the national average. The median margin of victory for these Republicans over the 2012 opponents was about 21 points. As a group, they are relatively secure in office.
Many Republicans who represent the most Hispanics in their districts are very conservative.
For instance, the Republican who has the 21st-most Hispanics in his district (putting him in the top 10 percent of House Republicans) is Lamar Smith, who has extremely hard-line opinions on the border and immigration while his district is also 27 percent Latino. One striking thing is how many of these Republicans with significant Hispanic constituencies are from Texas — 14 of the top 32. Yet very few of them seem in any way electorally vulnerable, since the non-Hispanic population of their districts are overall very conservative, exerting a countervailing pressure that could be felt in a party primary.
The number of House Republicans who could face immediate, relatively significant electoral consequences from Latinos is maybe as high as 10.
How many of these House Republicans are in close enough districts, with a large enough number of Latinos, so that they might actually feel electoral pressure to support the broad path to citizenship that (generally) is most popular among Latinos? Maybe 10, if you’re being generous. Gary Miller, R-CA31, is in a slightly Democratic-leaning district that is nearly half Hispanic, and could feel real pressure. Jeff Denham, R-CA10, is in an R+5 district, won his last election by 5 points, and has a district that is about 40 percent Hispanic. David Valadao, R-CA21, won a relatively comfortable victory in his agricultural district that is slimly Republican-leaning overall but is also the ninth most Hispanic in the country. (In Valadao’s situation, he may face more actual pro-reform pressure from agribusiness.) Buck McKeon, R-CA25, is in a situation like Denham’s; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s huge Latino constituency is mostly Cuban, but then again, Obama may have won Floridian Cuban-Americans last year; Peter King is potentially vulnerable; Scott Tipton (R-CO03) and Darrell Issa (R-CA49) are both in mildly Republican-leaning districts that have large Hispanic populations; Ed Royce (R-CA39), Steve Pearce (R-NM02), and Randy Weber (R-TX14) all come from somewhat more comfortable Republican districts (Cook PVI between R+5 and R+10) with large Latino populations. Even so, most of those members of Congress won their 2012 races by more than 10 points.
This all leads pretty clearly to the conclusion:
Whether Republicans feel pressure to support immigration reform is likely to come from their sense that their party generally needs help demographically — and not from the demographics of their own districts.
If 10 represents the highest reasonable number of House Republicans who might be afraid of relatively immediate electoral consequences if they are not sufficiently supportive of immigration reform, then that’s not enough to reach the 20-Republican-vote tipping point. However, we still might get there. So far, the main reason that Republicans have become interested again in immigration reform is their long-term sense that their party can’t continue to perform so poorly among Latino voters — not individual Republican members’ sense that they, specifically, are endangered by the current trends.
The Republicans who buy this argument are likely to be influenced by the positions of the party leadership on what represents a “good enough” reform. Specifically, if House Republicans are going to vote for a broad path to citizenship, then their motivation will have to come from the argument that if they pursue granting legal status without citizenship, then this will not make the issue “go away” as they intend, because Democrats will be able to argue from then on out that Republicans effectively created a Latino underclass by making it so that the undocumented had no way to become citizens. How effectively Republicans make this argument among themselves — and how many House Republicans buy its take on the party’s long-term fortunes — is likely to be the strongest determinant of the fate of a broad path to citizenship in the House.
The components of comprehensive immigration reform proposals are broadly popular. Public opinion polls show pretty enduring support for both a path to citizenship and greater enforcement. But this consensus breaks down a bit when you look at age cross-tabs, where the young (18-29) seem to be significantly more accepting of immigrants than people over 50 — somewhat more supportive of legalization, and somewhat less supportive of enforcement measures. Here’s an example from 2010:
There’s a 19-point gap between the 18-29 group and the 50-64 group on all of these enforcement questions. This is typical of pretty much any numbers you’ll see on this.
This is interesting, because at the same time it’s being discussed how much baby boomers’ attitudes have changed over time on issues like gay marriage, drifting in the direction of the views of younger people. (Though such an argument may be overstated.) On immigration, though, baby boomers’ attitudes continue to look much, much more like those of the 65+ group than they look like those of young people.
Tying this in to the discussion about the historical levels of immigration to the United States, our all-time highs were around 15 percent, and our current level is around 13 percent. Considering how we’re a nation of immigrants, one may assume that this has stayed pretty steady throughout the 20th century. But instead, there was a huge drop-off in how much of the U.S. population was foreign-born in the middle of the century, and the size of this drop-off may surprise:
In 1950, the U.S. population was only 6.8 percent foreign-born — about half of what it is today. This number fell even more during that decade, so that only 5.4% of the U.S. populations were immigrants in 1960. By 1970, this bottomed out at 4.8% — fewer than one in twenty people. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, though, had already been passed, and would broaden the scope of legal immigration (especially from Asia) hugely, thus helping create the demographic America we see today.
But this demographic America wasn’t the one of the baby boomers’ childhoods. Young people today are likelier to be used to an environment with a diverse number of sizable immigrant groups, but the baby boomer generation largely did not grow up with this. The conservative, nostalgic idea that there was once a simpler, white-bread America isn’t an idea I’m sympathetic to, because America has been an inherently multicultural enterprise since the early moments when first European settlers encountered North America’s native peoples. But in one sense, things really have changed in the past fifty or so years, in a way that may help explain a seemingly enduring generation gap on immigration.
Slate points out that immigrants were a larger portion of the U.S. population 100 years ago. This is pretty intuitive, considering how the late-19th and early-20th century waves of immigration are widely taught. However, we are relatively close to that historical high today (13 percent as opposed to 15 percent).
An interesting factoid in the immigration debate is that Americans hugely overestimate how much of the U.S. population is made of immigrants. I’ve only ever seen this question asked by one survey, the Transatlantic Trends Immigration survey (the latest results for which are 2011– they didn’t seem to release one in 2012).
To go over the facts again: The foreign-born population of the U.S. in recent years has been around 13 percent.
People think that somewhere between 35 and 40 percent of the people living in the United States are foreign born — about three times what the number actually is!
Two things: a) it would be nice to see the distributions on these guesses rather than just the mean (though you have to have a lot of people guessing very high, and very few people guessing under the real figure, to get that number); and b) this phenomenon is clearly not limited to the U.S., since people in the European countries surveyed also are way off on their own foreign-born populations.
But, this shows how successfully the idea of the U.S. being overrun by immigrants has taken hold. It’s worth wondering what would happen to people’s views on immigration if their perception of how many immigrants there are was generally more correct.
Interestingly, the 35-40 percent guess is correct… if you’re just looking at America’s Latino population.
Dividing the foreign-born Hispanic population (18.8 million) by total Hispanic population (50.7 million) gets you about 37 percent.