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Does Bush's immigration speech signal Latinos' new clout?

Developments in recent days, including the speech by former President Bush and an Illinois bill to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, suggest a shift in attitudes on immigration issues.

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Even Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports lower immigration rates, writes in a Nov. 26 blog entry that the postelection dynamics "suggest there is a common ground on immigration.” He goes on: “In short: amnesty for long-term, deserving illegal aliens in exchange for an end to future mass immigration – after the implementation of enforcement tools to ensure that we don't have another 11 million illegals a few years down the road."

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The decision by Mr. Bush – who received 44 percent of Hispanic votes in his 2004 reelection bid, compared with Mr. Romney's 27 percent – to devote his second major address since leaving Washington to immigration issues reinforced the idea that Republicans are interested in painting a more inclusive vision of Hispanic immigration.

"Not only do immigrants help build our economy, they invigorate our soul," Bush said at Tuesday's speech at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

That sentiment played at least in part into a Republican-led bill that passed the House last week, creating green-card opportunities for 55,000 immigrants who graduate from US colleges with advanced degrees. Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas said this week that the bill will "hopefully be ... a confidence builder that will see other common-sense immigration proposals follow along."

And in Illinois, the Senate has passed legislation that would issue special driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. The House, which is also a Democratic majority, is set to take the bill up next. If it becomes law, Illinois would be the most populous state allowing undocumented immigrants to legally drive. The licenses would have a different design from other ones in Illinois and would contain the phrase "not for identification," so it can't be used to board a plane or buy a gun.

The developments in Illinois suggest that Americans, at least in some parts of the country, will entertain bold proposals that acknowledge the potential damages wrought by having a huge illegal subculture living along the edges of American society.

At the same time, it's at the state level, in places like Arizona and Georgia, where anti-immigrant rhetoric is the strongest. This is where moderate Republicans will have the toughest time changing the tone of the debate.

Yet there is a potential federal solution for these tensions – mainly, the acknowledgment in the broader debate that it may have been Washington's failure to properly enforce immigration laws that helped to "radicalize" states against immigration in the first place.

Looking forward, Ms. Purcell sees more warmth toward immigrants from the GOP, as well as potential complications for Democrats as the country seeks a solid fix for a broken system.

"The person who ends up being the Republican candidate in 2016 is going to have a much more acceptable view on immigration than was the case this year," she says. "On the Democratic side, the big issue that helped derail President Bush's effort [in 2007] was that labor unions did not want to hear anything about temporary workers, and that was also why then-Senator Obama, who sided with the labor unions, voted against it. Whether or not the issue of temporary labor is going to be part of any new attempt at comprehensive reform remains to be seen."


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