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As Democrats Embrace Immigration, GOP Candidates Remain Stuck in the Past

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A growing number of Democratic candidates are embracing new paradigms on immigration, while Republicans remain stuck in the old way of thinking.

The latest evidence of the parties’ different strategies on immigration comes from three Democratic Senate candidates in the “Latino battleground” states of Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico.  According to the Associated Press, Democratic Senate candidates Rep. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Richard Carmona of Arizona, and Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada are working hard to inject the DREAM Act into the Democratic Party’s platform this election year.  This follows President Obama’s bold move earlier this year to start granting deferred action to DREAM Act-eligible youth.  Republicans, meanwhile, are clearly flummoxed by the Democrats’ newfound support for the issue.  Lead by Mitt Romney, they complain about what President Obama has done on immigration, but fail to lay out any real alternative, or distance themselves from their recent anti-immigration positions.

A look at the records of former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM), Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) (who currently leads in the Republican primary race), and Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) reveals a consistently hardline immigration stance in recent years.  Once a supporter of the House-version of DREAM (H.R. 1684, the Student Adjustment Act) in 2003, Wilson dropped her support and moved right on immigration as she prepared for her first U.S. Senate campaign.  Similarly, Flake was once a champion of comprehensive immigration reform, but changed his position and voted against the DREAM Act in 2010.  Heller has always been hardline on the issue, even if his Spanish-language campaign web site doesn’t say so.  He also voted against the DREAM Act in 2010, and has said he’d like to change the 14th amendment so that children born in the U.S. to undocumented parents are not American citizens.

According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice:

It’s refreshing to see Democrats like Heinrich, Carmona, and Berkley lean into this issue and push common sense immigration solutions.  It’s depressing to see their Republican rivals stuck in the past.  They just don’t get that the new immigration paradigm.  Latino voters want respect, and all voters want solutions.  Right now, the GOP position offers neither.

As America’s Voice has highlighted, the old conventional wisdom on the politics of immigration held that the issue was among the third rails of American politics and was best avoided—it was considered politically dangerous for candidates to stake out a clear pro-immigrant position and politically smart for candidates to try to out-do each other about who would build the higher fence.

But the new reality of immigration politics stands this old conventional wisdom on its head.  As President Obama demonstrated by with his plan to stop the deportation of DREAMers, taking affirmative and bold action mobilizes Latino and other pro-immigrant voters, isolates anti-immigration restrictionists, and tells swing voters that you are willing to lead on this issue.

The two parties’ distinct immigration strategies are a key reason why Latino voters continue to flock to the Democratic Party.  As Univisión reported yesterday, an aggregate snapshot of ten polls of Latino voters conducted since November 2011 finds Obama ahead of Romney by an average of 67% to 23% with Latinos.  Unfortunately, given their predicament, it seems that some Republicans have concluded that their best Latino strategy for 2012 is to suppress the vote.  For example, a conservative group in Nevada this week released a new Spanish-language ad targeting Nevada Latinos that criticizes President Obama’s record number of deportations.  Of course, the ad fails to note the fact that Republican candidate Mitt Romney has criticized the President for being too lenient on enforcement, and supports a national self-deportation plan instead of comprehensive immigration reform.  It’s disturbingly reminiscent of another ad from conservative groups that ran on Spanish-language television in Nevada: the infamous ad from 2010 (produced by “Latinos for Reform,” a group led by former Republican operative Robert De Posada) that told Latinos, “Don’t vote this November. This is the only way to send (Democrats) a clear message, you can no longer take us for granted. Don’t vote.”

In addition to spreading the seeds of Latino voter disillusionment through advertisements, the most transparent example of the GOP voter suppression strategy remains the array of state voter/photo ID laws passed in states like Florida and Texas – nakedly political attempts to depress turnout among minority voter populations, like Latinos, who are disproportionately affected by such laws and more likely to vote Democratic.  The new voter laws have passed in a dozen states, in part by hyping the non-existent problem of non-citizen voters.

Concluded Tramonte:

While the GOP seems to grasp the importance of Latino voters, they unfortunately seem more intent on suppressing Latino turnout than changing their positions on immigration reform.

In the coming weeks, America’s Voice will fact sheets highlighting the Latino vote and the role of immigration in key 2012 battleground states.  Check out our first installment about Nevada here: Spotlight on Nevada: Immigration, Latino Voters, and the 2012 Elections.