As the national debate focused on establishing a common sense immigration process reaches a crossroads, it’s interesting to consider the context of New Mexico and the population’s perspectives on this highly salient issue.
The demographics of the state of New Mexico are quite unique, with the largest ratio of Hispanic population in the nation at 45 percent and a significant Native American presence as well. The correlation between the demographic profile of New Mexico and the projected demographics of the U.S. overall has made the state the focus of much national attention of late, with high profile outlets including the New York Times and the Economist doing features on what the future of the national landscape might look like based on the current state of politics in New Mexico during the past presidential election.
Interestingly, despite being a border-state, the state Legislature of New Mexico has exhibited a comparative preference for integration of immigrants into our society. Consequently, in contrast to states that have enacted harsh anti-immigrant measures (i.e. our neighbor, Arizona), in New Mexico we’ve seen relatively little action on immigration policy during a record period of state-level immigration policy introduction and passage.
Furthermore, results from two Latino Decisions surveys of the Hispanic population in New Mexico revealed that immigration policy was highly salient to Hispanic voters in New Mexico during the election, coming in second only to the economy as the most important issue identified in those surveys. This trend was somewhat surprising to many, but reflects the recent political context in the state which has heightened the importance of immigration policy to Hispanic voters.
But now that immigration reform legislation has moved from the U.S. Senate (by a 68-32 vote) on to the U.S. House of Representatives, we can expect these New Mexican values to clash with what the GOP majority is proposing. A whopping 82 percent of Latinos believe that reform should include a roadmap for new Americans who aspire to be citizens. But recent announcements by the House Majority excluded any mention of a roadmap to citizenship that would bring 11 million immigrants out of the shadows.
Instead, in the coming months, look for the GOP majority to focus solely on stacking the border with more than $45 billion of additional walls, drones, and whatever other militaristic contracts can be stuffed into a bill. That approach, treating such a significant segment of our state’s population as outsiders, seems foreign to most New Mexicans. Throughout our history we’ve embraced civil rights protections, including the provision of bilingual government and many local statutes conducive to full integration, regardless of immigration status. It’s part of our heritage. Our economy also benefits significantly from immigration, with close to $90 million net tax revenue brought into the state by undocumented immigrants.
The topic is also personal for many New Mexicans. For example, Latino Decisions data indicates that 60 percent of New Mexican Latinos know somebody personally who is undocumented, whether it be family, a friend, or a co-worker. This means that when we are talking about immigration reform we are talking about a policy critical to our New Mexico families, co-workers, neighborhood business owners, neighbors, fellow-parishioners, taxpayers, and our children’s classmates. The personal connections that Latino voters have to immigrants across the state have major implications for their outlook on the topic.
Consequentially, GOP House members are faced with serious consideration of the debate’s impacts upon the future of their party. We have found that 76 percent of New Mexico Latinos already perceive that an anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant environment exists. The tense debate is heightening an underlying sense of group identity among Latinos and 79 percent of the same group indicated that immigration policy was important to their vote.
Thus far, in line with the GOP’s stance on this issue, New Mexico’s own U.S. Representative Steve Pearce has expressed strong opposition to an inclusive and earned pathway to citizenship. Instead, marching in lockstep with his colleagues on the far right, he’s doubling-down on the massive border surge spending — despite the fact the U.S. is currently experiencing a net loss of undocumented Mexican immigrants and border apprehensions are the lowest they’ve been in 40 years.
The data we have collected at Latino Decisions of late suggests that most Hispanics in New Mexican are perplexed by such reasoning, along with Rep. Pearce and GOP colleagues in Congress refusal to provide any light at the end of the tunnel for immigrants seeking to become fully participating Americans. It may not be a stretch to suggest that trying to derail bipartisan legislation providing a path to citizenship and offering only legislation focused on security against a fictional issue will offend many Hispanic voters in New Mexico and hurt the GOP brand now and into the future with this important constituency.
Like so many Americans, New Mexican Latinos would concur that it’s not where you were born that makes you American — it’s what you contribute to the nation that defines your standing in this country. This community appreciates the value of working hard and doing your part in exchange for the blessings of liberty.
But with 60 percent of New Mexican Latinos watching their families, friends, and co-workers suffer as a result of the status quo’s broken system, watch for this issue to boost Latino turnout, which could be devastating to the re-election hopes of Congressman Pearce and his colleagues unwilling to provide a common-sense approach to comprehensive immigration reform.
Gabriel Sanchez is director of research for Latino Decisions and an associate professor of political science at UNM.
This article originally appeared in The Silver City Sun-News.