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On a press call today, experts in Latino politics and public opinion discussed the recent back and forth over immigration in the Republican presidential primary contest and helped to put the debate over immigration into its proper policy and political context. The speakers were unanimous in two assessments – that the Republican field has moved far to the right in comparison to the proposals discussed during the comprehensive reform debates of 2006 and 2007, and that the GOP’s move to the extreme right will significantly damage its nominee’s ability to compete for Latino voters in the 2012 general election.
Newt Gingrich’s proposal for a path to legalization, but not toward citizenship, for a small number of undocumented immigrants has focused attention on the question of what to do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently settled in the U.S. Despite his past support for comprehensive immigration reform, Mitt Romney is now positioning himself as a supporter of mass deportation and labeling anything short of the mass expulsion of 11 million people as “amnesty,” including the Gingrich proposal.
As Gary Segura, Professor at Stanford University and Principal of Latino Decisions noted on the call, this is a damaging political strategy in light of public opinion among general election voters, both Latino and non-Latino. Said Segura:
Our recent polling found that once you control for one’s economic preference, hostility to immigrants hurts candidates among the general electorate. It’s not the case that you do better with the American electorate by bashing immigrants, certain Republican primary audiences excluded.
Other speakers focused on the fact that Gingrich’s “red card” proposal falls well short of the comprehensive immigration reform plan of 2006 that received the backing of 23 Republican Senators and President George W. Bush. Angela Kelley, Vice President for Immigration Policy and Advocacy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund said:
The debate has changed dramatically. In the Republican primary today, there’s been a lot of chest thumping but it has not yet developed into smart policy. Republicans can maximize their chances if they focus on issues like immigration, but they are drinking a slow poison by taking the extreme positions they’ve been taking.
Frank Sharry, Executive Director, America’s Voice noted that the Republican rhetoric and policy on the campaign trail means that the eventual nominee will have a difficult time reaching the 40% threshold of support among Latino voters that a Republican candidate will need to win the White House. Said Sharry:
The past debates over comprehensive immigration reform weren’t about amnesty, they were about accountability. There was a recognition by policymakers that there is no pathway currently for those here or many overseas. Instead, we have a broken immigration system where people who have been here for decades have no line to get into. That’s why you have to create new pathways in any serious policy proposal.
For more resources, visit:
America’s Voice Report on GOP 2012 Candidates and Immigration: Why Do Elephants Put their Heads in the Sand?
Center for American Progress Report titled, “The Path to 270: Demographics Versus Economics in the 2012 Presidential Election”