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One year out from the 2012 election, we’ve released a report that the Republican Party’s stance on immigration—and what it means for their candidates’ ability to compete for Latino voters—is shaping up as one of the major storylines this election cycle. The report, Why Do Elephants Put Their Heads in the Sand?, finds that as Republicans continue to embrace hard-right positions on immigration, the Party is distancing itself not only from the legacy of Ronald Reagan and other past Republican leaders, but also from Latino voters in numerous states that are shaping up to be 2012 battlegrounds.
According to our own Executive Director, Frank Sharry:
With immigration a minor issue for a majority of non-Latino voters, and a defining, personal issue for a majority of Latino voters, the GOP’s position on immigration makes no sense. It was bad politics in 2008 and 2010, and given the continued growth of the Latino vote, it will be suicidal in 2012 and beyond.
This month marks not only one year before the 2012 election, but also the 25th anniversary of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which President Reagan signed and which granted legal permanent residency to nearly 2.7 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Many of those formerly undocumented immigrants have become citizens and voters today, or have family members who legalized under IRCA, underscoring how personal this issue truly is to many Latinos.
But the Reagan approach stands in sharp contrast to the current crop of Republican presidential contenders, most Republicans in Congress, and many Republican state leaders, all of whom continue to promote deportation-only policies backed by anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Here are some of the key findings of the updated America’s Voice report:
The Republican Party’s stance on immigration flies in the face of demographic changes and recent electoral history, which would suggest that the GOP should be moving toward a pro-immigrant policy stance. The Republican anti-immigrant push ignores four facts: one, that the nation is undergoing massive demographic changes that are altering electoral maps and electorates; two, that Latino voters do care about and vote on immigration issues; three, that recent elections have proven the dangers of embracing hard-line immigration stances; and four, that outside of small slivers of the electorate, most Americans want immigration solutions, not Republican extremism on immigration.
The GOP field is curiously MIA on Alabama’s anti-immigration law. At the Republican primary presidential debate in September 2011, Noticiero Telemundo anchor José Díaz-Balart challenged the Republican candidates to explain what they would do about the estimated 11 million undocumented people in the nation, provided that the border was secure to their satisfaction. The candidate field offered little more than rhetorical fumbling in response to this question, but the general thrust of their responses was this: to continue to enforce the law and hope that millions of people would leave the country either through government action or on their own. This “attrition through enforcement” agenda, better known as “mass deportation,” is now playing out in Alabama. The Alabama approach approximates the candidates’ vision for immigration policy, so it’s curious that only Herman Cain has spoken up in favor of this law. The candidates have spoken out about similar laws in Arizona and South Carolina, where most provisions have yet to take effect, but stayed silent on the Alabama law that is currently being enforced. Could this be a sign that even they realize that the immigration issue is hurting them with Latinos, given the negative consequences Alabama is experiencing to its economy and reputation?
The Republican candidates for President are pandering to a segment of the base in the primary and closing themselves off from Latino voters they will need in the general election. The report provides updated snapshots of the current Republican presidential candidates’ positions on immigration. Unfortunately, when it comes to both rhetoric and policy, each of the leading Republican contenders and most of the minor players are embracing a hard-line, anti-immigrant approach in the primary. With analysts predicting the Republican nominee will need to win 40% of the Latino vote in order to defeat President Obama, this is particularly illogical. For most Latinos, immigration is a motivating issue and for most non-Latinos, it is not. In fact, in Gallup national polling, only 3% of respondents named immigration as the “most important problem facing the country” in October 2011; only 4% named it as such in Gallup’s September 2011 poll. What’s more, the vast majority of voters support comprehensive immigration reform.
The current Republican party line on immigration is simply self-defeating. The candidates are pandering to the nativist base in their Party, despite the fact that very few non-Latino voters list immigration as their top issue, and a majority of non-Latino voters support comprehensive immigration reform. For Latinos, it is a defining, personal issue, and they will be key factors in a number of battleground states. Rather than capitalizing on President Obama’s potential vulnerability with many frustrated Latino voters, Republican candidates seem to be doing their best to alienate them. This will not only ensure that the eventual Republican nominee performs well below the target 40% with Latino voters, but cede important battleground states to President Obama.