It is hard to judge how much it would help the GOP to pass immigration reform. But a recent report by Latino Decisions gives up a glimpse. Thirty-one percent of Latino voters say that they would be more likely to vote Republican if the party look a lead role in passing comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, according to their polling. That includes 27 percent of the nearly three-quarters of Hispanic voters who backed Obama over Republican candidate Mitt Romney. It is possible those numbers could help the GOP reach the 40 percent threshhold of the so-called "Latino vote" it needs to win presidential election.
The last time a Republican cracked that mark was George W. Bush in 2004. Bush was a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform.
There are also those who suggest that simply reframing the Republican Party's message on immigration would enough -- saying "undocumented" instead of "illegal immigrant," for example, but not changing fundamental policy. But as long as the issue remains unresolved, or "on the table," Democrats will blame Republicans for its failure. And no matter who is actually to blame, it's a safe bet that most Hispanic and Latino voters are likely to pin blame on Republicans given how poor the party's brand is in the community.
"Regardless of what anyone on our side says about the compatibility of our values and how immigration is only fourth or fifth down the line in our top list of priorities. We are not going to make significant progress until we get this immigration issue out of the way in a bipartisan fashion. We need to do that next year," American Conservative Union chairman Al Cardenas told me in an interview last August.
The specifics of a comprehensive immigration reform deal have yet to be fleshed out and Republicans participating in negotiations have every right to insist their priorities be a part of a final bill. And it would also do the GOP much good to formulate a wide-ranging plan to address Latino voters, one that reaches beyond the immigration issue.
But the GOP's hopes for breaking through to Latino voters will be inextricably tied to how the party handles the current debate over comprehensive immigration reform.