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Tonight’s GOP Debate in Arizona: Latinos Can Expect Tough Talk, No Solutions on Immigration

by Mahwish Khan on 02/22/2012 at 2:47pm

last four candidatesImmigration has been a hot topic in the GOP presidential primary, despite the fact that most Republican voters are focused on other issues.  But Latino Voters – a key segment of the electorate that Republicans will need in order to win the general election—have been watching the Republican primary debates in alarm.  And, many will be watching tonight’s GOP presidential debate in Arizona, which airs at 8 PM ET on CNN.

As Columnist Ruben Navarrette noted last September:

The Republican Party has dug itself an awfully deep hole with Latino voters. And every time a Republican talks about immigration, the hole gets a little deeper.  That includes nearly all the 2012 Republican presidential candidates.

Last week, Dana Milbank wrote in a Washington Post column:

[t]he Hispanic population is expected to double – to 30 percent of the United States population – in the coming decades. So if Latinos continue to vote 2-to-1 for Democrats, the Republican Party will become irrelevant.

Nowhere is this political reality truer than in Arizona, the leading state in anti-immigrant “papers please” laws like SB 1070 and host to tonight’s GOP presidential debate. The 2010 census shows Arizona moving into a battleground territory: from 2000 to 2010 the Latino population grew by 46.27%. Latinos now constitute 29.6% of the population in Arizona.

For Latino voters, the immigration issue is personal, and politicians who play politics with their friends and families will be punished at the ballot box. As we move from the Republican primary debate into the general election, this fact will become more problematic for the GOP nominee.

Francisco Heredia, State Director for Mi Familia Vota Arizona told us:

We’re out on the streets talking to voters every day.  We know that the political landscape in Arizona is changing rapidly due to the growing numbers and incredible potential of the Latino vote,” said . Politicians who ignore or alienate this voting bloc during the primary season will pay the consequences come November, as Latino voters get more and more engaged in the democratic process, turning Arizona into a swing state.

It didn’t have to be this way.  While few Republican voters name immigration their top issue, it’s a big issue for Latinos.  And, aNovember poll found that a strong majority of general election voters—and Republicans—support the same type of immigration reform that Latinos do.  This is consistent with other polls that show strong support for comprehensive immigration reform among voters of all political persuasions.

Yet for some reason, Republican Presidential candidates continue to think that a hardline, anti-immigration stance is smart politics. Rick Santorum views all undocumented immigrants as law-breakers (“everything you’re doing while you’re here is against the law”).  And Mitt Romney has taken a strident anti-immigrant stance, vowing to veto the DREAM Act, arguing for “self deportation” and welcoming the endorsement of Kris Kobach, architect of the infamous Arizona and Alabama anti-immigrant laws.

Kobach is one of the architects of Romney’s so-called “self-deportation” policy.  Also called “attrition through enforcement,” self-deportation advocates want to make life so miserable for immigrants that those not picked up for deportation, pick up and leave on their own, en masse.  That was the intended purpose of Arizona’s SB 1070 and Alabama’s HB 56, which have already cost these states dearly in both dollars and reputation

Extreme positions on immigration will make it virtually impossible for the eventual GOP nominee to reach the coveted 40% threshold among Latino voters in the general election.  This in turn will make it that much harder for the GOP to win key swing states like Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico and, now, Arizona. 

AV’s Executive Director Frank Sharry summed it up:

 The bad news for the Republican Party is that tonight’s debate will feature not only anti-immigrant posturing by the candidates on stage, but a large viewing audience of Latino voters throughout the state and nation as well.

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