Self-Interest Could Sink Immigration Reform

Only 38 of the House's 234 Republicans, or 16%, represent districts in which Latinos account for 20% of the population or more.

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Kevin Lamarque / REUTERS

Speaker of the House John Boehner addresses the 113th Congress in the Capitol in Washington January 3, 2013.

Many of the Republican Party’s smartest thinkers believe passing comprehensive immigration reform is a necessity for the GOP to continue competing at a national level. But at a local level, the party’s lawmakers aren’t necessarily motivated by the same concerns.

According to the Wall Street Journal, only 38 of the House’s 234 Republicans, or 16%, represent districts in which Latinos account for 20% of the population or more. Mitt Romney‘s loss in November may have proven that Republicans need to better communicate with and cater to Hispanics to win the White House, but 196 Republican Congressmen know their job is safe regardless of their immigration vote. As the Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza put it, “Politics is a team sport, but not for House Republicans.”

This clash of incentives–between the party’s national needs and the narrow self-interest of its elected officials–threatens the fate of immigration reform. Even the first family of the Republican Party cannot motivate its members to act beyond their own self-interest. George W. Bush couldn’t convince Congress to overhaul immigration laws in 2006 and 2007. Six years later, with a Democratic president in his second term, Bush’s older brother–who may be gearing up for a White House bid of his own — offers a case for why reform is good for the party. “No Republican would vote for legislation that stifled economic growth, promoted illegal immigration, added to the welfare rolls, and failed to ensure a secure border,” write Jeb Bush and Clink Bolick in today’s Wall Street Journal“Yet they essentially will do just that if they fail to pass immigration reform.”

No matter how strong his argument, Bush will have a hard time winning over House Republicans by making an analytical case. If immigration reform fails, blame the Republican congressmen who act in their own self-interest rather than that of their party.