Democrats had the advantage with a majority of the public supporting immigration reform (a path to citizenship) and a passionate minority of Republicans believing any change (or even discussing reform) was amnesty and encouraged more migration north.
The Central American surge has put Democrats on the defense. It shifted the discussion from citizenship to enforcement. Democrats are divided on welcoming the immigrants and sending them back. But, a majority of the public prefers a speedy process to send children back, which is why Colorado politicians, especially Democrats, are becoming very cautious with the issue.
Mayor Hancock is welcoming some children to stay in Denver. His constituents will be supportive. Denver is the state’s largest and one of its most liberal cities, with a significant Hispanic population. The children also come with some federal money. But, the announcement was not rushed. And, Governor Hickenlooper delayed any statement about Denver’s action, and then offered minimal support on humanitarian grounds.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez and, in general, Colorado Republicans have been avoiding the immigration issue, a do no harm strategy, believing there was more to lose than gain bringing it up. But, the new environment provides them room to seek an advantage.
- Gallup reports the issue itself has surged to the top national issue (17%) when people are asked to name the “United States’ most important problem.”
- Republicans are tied with Democrats as the party who can best handle this issue. And, it especially motivates them as a group. Nearly a quarter of Republicans said it was a top issue (Gallup 2014).
- The crisis shifts the discussion from the citizenship issue to a border and enforcement issue. The majority of Americans want a sped up process of deportation (53% Pew 2014), but Democrats are closely divided on the issue (47% current policy/46% speed up) whereas Republicans mostly supported speeding it up (60%).
- President Obama’s job performance on this issue has not scored well with the public. Only 28 percent approve his handling the surge (56% disapprove, Pew 2014)
- Since the humanitarian crisis began at the border (June 2 when the President first referenced it) and it became a feature of politic, such as in the Eric Cantor race (June 10), public support for immigration has been declining. Gallup reported: decrease immigration – 35% to 41% in 6 months, keep present levels – 40% to 33%.
9News: Governor weighs in on bringing migrant kids to Colorado
National Journal: In Colorado, Republicans avoid talking about immigration
Denver Post: Colorado advocates say immigration reform not “a play for amnesty”