Opinion: Immigration Shows How Politics Drive Policy

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The U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

It's amazing how fast things move in Washington when the right incentives are put in place. Politics drive policy, and immigration reform might just be the latest example of that. The result of the election, and the demographics driving it, removed just about every political penalty for those looking to fix a broken immigration system.

Now, it's not about whether pro-immigration reform activists will get what they want, but whether everyone else in Washington, particularly the GOP, will get to be a part of it.

It's clear plenty are already scrambling to fill those slots. Less than a week after the election, key Republican and Democratic senators spoke out saying that immigration reform could be passed, including a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

And this week, President Barack Obama revealed in his first news conference since being re-elected that conversations between the White House and members of Congress had begun on this issue, adding that a bill could be introduced "very soon." It's something he promised to do during an interview with Univision in April in which he said that, if re-elected, he would "try to pass immigration reform within the first year of his second term."

Even Sean Hannity, a Fox News conservative political commentator, announced that his position on immigration had "evolved." He now supports a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants that live, work and pay taxes in this country.

If this political environment isn't enough, public support is also on the side of this subject. An estimated 57 percent of Americans say they would back a program that gives undocumented immigrants the right to live here legally, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. That number climbs within the Hispanic community to around eight out every ten Latinos supporting legal status for undocumented immigrants.

The significant increase in the Hispanic share of total voters brings much needed influence to a community that has struggled to reflect the power of its numbers in policies aimed at advancing its agenda.

Power and influence that, according to a report released Wednesday by the Pew Hispanic Center, will only keep growing. During the next two decades, the number of Latinos who are eligible to vote will nearly double, from 23.7 million to about 40 million. If 11 percent of the electorate gave Latinos the power to influence the result of this election, 16 percent can help them shape the race by 2032.

Still, the GOP may find itself having a hard time getting a chair at this table. That's because comments like Romney's about how Obama's generosity to Latinos won him the election will only scare away more Hispanics. Even the older more social conservative generations that can relate better to Republican ways may walk away.

The most sincere option for those looking to reshape the Republican image in the eyes of Latinos is to address the issue that everyone's talking about in an honest, open and forward-thinking way. It's true that immigration reform may not guarantee that Latino voters will embrace the GOP, but Republicans will have a harder time winning back the White House if the lives of 11 million undocumented individuals in this country are not resolved.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.