On January 22, the Washington Post reported (Va. Republicans' redistricting maneuver draws criticism) that the day before, while Virginia State Senator Henry L. Marsh, a Democrat, the first African-American mayor of Richmond, and a former civil rights lawyer, was in Washington attending President Obama's inauguration, the State Senate, without notice or hearings, passed a radical Congressional redistricting bill which concentrates minority and other normally Democratic voters into three heavily Democratic House districts and would make it easier for Republicans to win control of eight other Congressional districts, six of which are now held by Democrats.
Since that Chamber is split evenly between 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats, if Senator Marsh had been present, there would have been a tie vote and the measure would have failed. The underhanded way that the Virginia Senate acted was so reprehensible that even the Republican governor, Robert F. McDonnell, a staunch conservative, was critical of the maneuver.
But why is this a cause for concern, and what does this have to do with immigration reform? After all, gerrymandering electoral districts to favor the party in control is as American as apple pie.
In reality, gerrymandering has a great deal to do with the chances of passing immigration reform. In the 2012 election, there were more votes cast nationwide for Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives than for the Republicans, but the Republicans won a majority of the seats, due to the skewed way that Congressional districts were drawn in many Republican-controlled states (washingtonpost.com, November 9, 2012)
As mentioned in my comment on January 23, House Speaker Boehner has announced that he will not even take up immigration reform for the next two or three months at least, because he has other priorities which in his view are more urgent. And if an immigration reform bill ever is taken up by the House, one can only imagine what kind of poison pills may be in it. If majority rule had prevailed in the 2012 election, there would have been a Democratic controlled House which might already be considering real immigration reform proposals as we speak.
But this is by no means the most pernicious or dangerous effect that gerrymandering of Congressional districts by Republican controlled state legislatures could have on the chances for immigration reform and on immigrant rights in general.
Only two days after the gerrymandering bill passed the Virginia Senate, a subcommittee of that body, by a 3-3 vote in which the committee chairman abstained even though she is also a Republican, approved a proposal that would allocate the state's electoral college votes by Congressional district, instead of according to the overall popular vote, as is now the case in all but two states.
Without going into the details, which are reported in the January 23 Richmond Times-Dispatch (Bill to change allocation of Virginia's electoral votes advances) it is enough to point out that if this plan had been in effect last November, Mitt Romney would have won a majority of Virginia's electoral votes, even while losing the popular vote.
And this would have been even before the latest skewed redistricting plan mentioned above. Other Republican controlled states are planning to rig the electoral system the same way, as reported in thinkprogress.org on January 23 (Virginia State Senator Declines To Back GOP Electoral College Rigging Scheme).
If widespread electoral college rigging had been in effect in 2012, this week's inauguration ceremony would not have featured a speech by a president who is at least talking about immigration reform (while deporting 400,000 people per year). Instead, Mr. "Self-Deportation" himself would now be our new president, and the only immigration reform under consideration might be "reforming" the border fences to make them bigger and the immigration jails to hold more people.
We have to remind ourselves why immigration reform is under discussion at all after the last election. Nearly everyone in both parties agrees that it is because Latinos, Asians, African-Americans and other US citizens of color voted, despite massive, intense and sophisticated attempts by Republican officials in crucial states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida to keep them away from the polls. If these attempts had worked, not many people in Washington would be talking about immigration reform today.
If attempts to rig the electoral college so that Latino and other minority votes do not count in future presidential elections succeed, any hope of immigration reform will vanish, along with America's democracy.
Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 20 years.