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Immigration Reform High On Democrats' To-Do List

President Obama says he wants to take on immigration reform in a second term. Some Republicans say the GOP must drop its opposition to broaden its base, but it's not clear Republicans in Congress will agree.

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The election results may also boost prospects for immigration reform. Exit polls show Latinos made up a record 10 percent of the electorate and tilted overwhelmingly Democratic. In his victory speech this morning, President Obama said he wants to fix the immigration system, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already put it high on his to-do list. NPR's Jennifer Ludden has that story.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: When he was Mr. Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel famously called immigration reform the third rail of American politics. This past summer, when the president moved to stop deportation for many young, illegal immigrants, Democrats feared a backlash. But Frank Sharry, of the immigrant advocacy group America's Voice, says not only did that not happen, the election results prove it a smart move.

FRANK SHARRY: I think Democrats are going to feel newly emboldened on the immigration issue. They're going to lean into it. They're going to press the issue. I think the question is whether Republicans are going to rise to the occasion or not.

LUDDEN: He says election eve polling shows that Hispanics' first concern is jobs and the economy, but a close second is immigration reform. In fact, a number of Republican analysts are urging their party to get with the new demographic reality. In The Wall Street Journal today, an editorial calls on the GOP to leave its anti-immigration absolutists behind. Again, Frank Sharry.

SHARRY: If they don't, I think they'll pay a price in 2014 in the midterm elections. And as many of my Republican friends say, they may not see the inside of the White House for a generation.

LUDDEN: But that wasn't the message from new senator-elect Ted Cruz, a Hispanic and Tea Party favorite from Texas. On CNN, he was asked what message his party should take from the lopsided Latino vote.

SENATOR-ELECT TED CRUZ: At the end of the day, the president should enjoy his victory. But what I think it says going forward is we remain a nation very, very divided.

LUDDEN: Remember, Cruz said, Americans also elected a Republican House. Others cited a different kind of existential threat to the GOP. Steve Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies opposes legalizing the undocumented. He says Hispanics have always leaned Democratic.

STEVE CAMAROTA: There's no question if immigration is allowed to continue, including in amnesty, that will put an end to the Republican Party. But that's not the reason they lost this election.

LUDDEN: Camarota says there are much larger ships at play. The fast-growing Hispanic population, he says, may be the least of the Republican Party's problems.

CAMAROTA: The fraction of the US population that's single or that reports that their secular or that is receiving some kind of government transfer, welfare or other has all been increasing. And they are populations that do not tend towards the Republican Party.

LUDDEN: Camarota says Hispanics were only a small slice of the swing state votes that mattered this year. Of course, others point out it was a crucial slice and one that will be bigger four years from now. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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