Failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform could have disastrous political consequences for Republicans in red states with growing Hispanic populations, Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain, a key player in drafting the blueprint for an immigration overhaul, said Wednesday.
"The Republican Party has failed to understand to a significant degree the importance of this issue to our Hispanic voters," McCain said during a breakfast sponsored by Politico. "I think the trend will continue of lack of support from Hispanic voters and also as you look at the demographics of states like mine, that means we will go from Republican to Democrat over time."
The bipartisan working group of eight senators on Monday unveiled principles they hope will guide congressional efforts to write a law that offers a path to legality for illegal immigrants in exchange for enhanced border security. The push comes after a national election in which more than 70 percent of Hispanic voters supported Democratic President Barack Obama's re-election over Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
The election served as a wake-up call for Republicans, who see the constituency of one of the fastest-growing groups slipping away, and emboldened Democrats, who see it as an opportunity to bring states like Texas and Arizona, which traditionally support Republicans, into their fold.
McCain said Republicans currently have a perception problem with Hispanic voters and suggested that working to pass a comprehensive bill could be a major opportunity to re-engage them.
"We are elected to office because voters think we will help them achieve their hopes and dreams and aspirations for the future," McCain said. "If you have a large bloc of Americans who believe that you are trying to keep their ... fellow Hispanics down and deprive them of an opportunity, obviously that's going to have an effect."