Immigration's Not Just About Latino Votes

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
July 1 2013 11:19 AM

For House Republicans Immigration Isn't All About Latino Votes

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven wants to know where to get a good taco near Williston.
U.S. Sen. John Hoeven wants to know where to get a good taco near Williston.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Are House Republicans going to stumble over one another to vote for a comprehensive immigration reform bill in order to woo Latino voters? Probably not. As my colleague David Weigel writes, only 24 House Republicans represent heavily Hispanic districts.

On the other hand, look at how comprehensive immigration reform got a decent chunk of Republican support in the Senate, and you'll find John Hoeven and Bob Corker playing a key role. I'm pretty sure Corker was not eyeing Tennessee's 4.7 percent Latino population as his key consideration, and I'm damn sure Hoeven is not trolling for Hispanic votes in North Dakota.

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If Hoeven's thinking about local angles, he's probably thinking about the fact that the North Dakota economy would greatly benefit from a legal guest worker program. Thanks to an oil extraction boom, the unemployment rate in North Dakota is super-low. But it's hard to actually get new workers to move to North Dakota because it's cold, remote, and housing is incredibly scarce. If you could import some foreign workers to build and staff the stuff that would make North Dakota a more appealing place to live, then North Dakota could recruit even more American workers and gain much more economic momentum. I would imagine that another Hoeven consideration is the provision of funding for extra staff or facilities on America's lightly patrolled northern border, which is an appealing source of pork in rural areas. There are also lots of weird idiosyncratic issues out there.

For example, comprehensive immigration reform includes a provision to help Colorado ski resorts get work visas for ski instructors with foreign language skills. That sounds a little silly, but it's obviously quite good for the broader Colorado economy if a handful of imported ski instructors can substantially increase the volume of tourism to the state. That's something Colorado's four House Republicans should think about. Do these kinds of considerations give the bill enough juice to get a hearing in the House? I have no idea. But Latino votes alone wouldn't have had enough juice to get 68 Senate votes—the bill attracted broader support because it addresses a broader array of concerns. Those same broader concerns also exist in the House, and if a comprehensive bill passes, it'll be thanks to the larger package.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.