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On the day of the Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, we are reminded of President Reagan’s immigration legacy and his vision for America. Yet at tonight’s debate, according to experts on immigration and Latino politics who participated in an America’s Voice sponsored press call held earlier today, we will likely hear a very different message from the GOP’s 2012 presidential candidates on the issue.
Upon signing the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which granted residency to nearly 2.7 million undocumented immigrants, President Reagan said:
The legalization provisions in this act will go far to improve the lives of a class of individuals who now must hide in the shadows, without access to many of the benefits of a free and open society.
Yet according to the experts and a new report from America’s Voice, “Why Do Elephants Put Their Heads in the Sand?” the Republican field has fallen far from President Reagan’s centrist immigration approach, adopting a hard-line, anti-immigrant platform that will only further the Party’s dismal showing with Latino voters in 2012 and beyond. Some Republicans are starting to realize that Latino voters are, in fact, important players in modern-day politics. But, so far, the GOP candidates have not yet shown a willingness to shed their hard-line, anti-immigrant policy agendas for a more Reagan-esque and inclusive approach.
Republicans may try to portray a less aggressive image to Latino voters while presenting a hard line front to their primary, far right voters. However, the matter of the fact is that the policies they advocate for remain the same. Experts and strategists from both sides of the aisle agree that the Republican Party needs to win at least 40% of the Latino vote in a presidential election year in order to win the general election – a task that will be inordinately difficult given the Party’s current brand image with Latino voters.
Polling released in June 2011 by Latino Decisions and impreMedia found that by a 65% – 19% margin, Latino voters trust President Obama and Democrats more “to make the right decisions when it comes to immigration policy” compared with Republicans. In the 2010 elections, Latinos voted for Democrats over Republicans by roughly 75%-25%, or a 3-1 margin according to election-eve polling of Latino voters conducted by Latino Decisions in eight key states (AZ, CA, CO, FL, IL, NM, NV, TX).
Dr. Matt Barreto, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Washington, who is also one of the principals at Latino Decisions, explained:
The tracking poll data from Latino Decisions show very clearly that the Republican Party has an image problem with Latino voters. So far, we have not seen any signs whatsoever that the Republican presidential candidates are reaching out to Latino voters. Without serious outreach and a new positive message, the GOP will do very badly with Latinos again in 2012.
Providing context, Maria Cardona, Principal at the Dewey Square Group and expert on Latino politics added:
If the GOP does not address their jaw-dropping deficit of support within the Latino electorate – they need at least 40% support among Latino voters to win and they are currently at 18% – their nominee, no matter who he or she is, will never see the inside of La Casa Blanca.
The new report from America’s Voice documents GOP 2012 presidential candidates’ past and current positions on immigration and analyzes the politics of the issue for the Republican Party.
For example, even though rivals of Governor Perry (R-TX) are spinning it that he has a moderate record on the issue, such is not the case. In reference to Gov. Perry’s immigration stance, Mitch Ackerman, International Executive Vice President of SEIU said:
Will we see the Rick Perry who once campaigned for Texas Latino support or the one who turned his back on Hispanics this year with an agenda that included a harsh immigration bill with many of the components of the Arizona law he originally opposed, as well as a congressional redistricting plan that diluted the voting strength of Latino ad minority voters, and a budget that severely slashed funding for public education in Texas with a student enrollment that is 51 percent Latino? In a short amount of time, it seems, Rick Perry became a born again nativist.
For Perry and the rest of the field, hiding behind vacuous sound bites such as “border security first” – which really means “comprehensive immigration reform never” – or pledging to expel 11 million undocumented immigrants — the vast majority of whom are Latino, and then defending anti-immigrant and anti-Latino laws like Arizona’s SB 1070, simply won’t go over well with the Latino electorate, even if it is said with a smile.