House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is the favorite to succeed John Boehner (R-OH) after his surprise resignation as the House Speaker last week. The appointment of McCarthy, who represents a heavily Latino district, to preside over a more radically conservative Republican caucus could have implications for immigration reform.
McCarthy’s district encompasses the agriculture powerhouses of Kern and Tulare counties, which produced $3 billion annually in crops like “cotton, citrus, grapes, stone fruits, pistachios, wine grapes, almonds, olives, tomatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, alfalfa, cattle and sheep,” according to his website. His district is also about 35 percent Latino, and employs a massive number of farmworkers. Grower and labor union statistics suggest it’s possible that upwards of 70 percent of all farmworkers in the country are undocumented.
Yet McCarthy has so far maintained a strict opposition to immigration reform. As the highest-ranking House member, McCarthy’s immigration-restrictionist stance could hurt the Republican Party, especially as Latinos amass more voting power and the demographics of this country shift towards a majority-minority nation.
On his website, McCarthy takes a hard-line approach, stating that he would not support so-called “amnesty,” that the government should focus on securing the border first, and that “illegal immigrants are not receiving any of the benefits that are reserved for American Citizens.” He supported legal status for some undocumented immigrants last year, but refused to take up comprehensive immigration reform on a House floor vote as recently as March 2015.
But the political climate might force a change. Numerous polls indicate that immigration is a very important topic for at least 63 percent of Latino voters because they personally know an undocumented immigrant.
Without movement on federal immigration reform, Latino voters will instead vote for candidates who aren’t actively campaigning on a mass deportation platform. Latino votes will likely play a crucial role in the 2016 presidential race: roughly 66,000 eligible Latino voters turn 18 years old every month, or one every 30 seconds. About 11.2 million Latino voters turned out for the 2012 general election, but it’s expected that more Latinos will vote in 2016, particularly spurred on by the anti-immigrant rhetoric espoused by some Republican candidates. A Latino Decisions report found that the GOP would need the votes of anywhere between 42 percent and 52 percent of the Latino vote to win a majority of the general election.
In order to find common ground with future eligible voters, as the GOP has said it needs to do, McCarthy will need to bring a House floor vote on issues that reflect an increasingly majority-minority country, meaning that population growth comes mainly from immigration and that there have been fewer births and more deaths among whites.
McCarthy’s own state is perhaps a good model for how Republican voters have adapted to their majority-minority population. About 61 percent of Californian Republicans favor a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, a route that would include paying penalties, learning English, and undergoing a criminal background check. Decades after the passage of the anti-immigration law known as Proposition 187, the state passed bills that would make life easier for undocumented immigrants, including allowing some to have in-state tuition, receive driver’s licenses, and get limited healthcare access.
At least three other congressional Republicans representing similar, immigrant-heavy districts rooted in the agricultural industry, David Valadao, Jeff Denham, and Devin Nunes, embrace broad immigration changes.