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Following the 2008 elections, when Latino voter turnout and support for Democratic candidates reached historic highs, a number of notable Republican leaders and strategists began to signal that the Party’s handling of the immigration issue was a serious misstep with severe electoral consequences. As Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) said on “Meet the Press” “[T]he very divisive rhetoric of the immigration debate set a very bad tone for our brand as Republicans…there were voices within our party, frankly, which if they continue with that kind of rhetoric, anti-Hispanic rhetoric…we’re going to be relegated to minority status.” His words were echoed by many others, from Karl Rove to Senator John Ensign (R-NV), former chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who was quoted in The Hill saying “We have to reach out to Hispanics.”
Yet in the first test of the Republican Party’s new Latino outreach strategy, GOP leaders are reaching for their old talking points. As reported by National Public Radio today, Ensign and other Republicans are voicing strong opposition to provisions in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) bill that would allow legal immigrant children to access health care without a five year waiting period. As Ensign put it: “It would seem to me that we are giving more incentives for folks to come to the United States, not just to participate in the American dream, but to get on the government dole. And I think this is exactly the wrong direction we should be going with this legislation.” His colleagues, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), have already filed amendments to gut the provisions.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice: “It is hard to reach out to Latino voters on the one hand while opposing health care for hundreds of thousands of legally-resident Latino children on the other. This is one Latino outreach strategy that’s doomed to fail. At a time of national need, Republicans are playing politics and blocking progress on a solution to an important problem: health care for children.
“Moreover, the politics behind this strategy have already backfired big time. Didn’t Republicans in Congress get the memo following the November elections? Latino voters generally, and Latino immigrant voters especially, fled the GOP and ran into the arms of Democrats in record numbers. Evidently, telling people you don’t like them, you don’t respect their contributions, and their relatives should be deported doesn’t help you win their votes.”
Where does the GOP get the idea that beating up on the fastest growing group of new voters is smart politics? Interesting. On Thursday, an event at the National Press Club will feature luminaries from the anti-immigrant right, making the case for a renewed Republican anti-immigration strategy. Entitled “Immigration and the 2008 Republican Defeat,” the event will feature Bay Buchanan, Jim Pinkerton, Peter Brimelow, and Marcus Epstein, and will chart a roadmap to take the GOP further into the political wilderness. Stay tuned.
America’s Voice — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.