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Florida Provides Perfect Case Study for the Politics of Immigration

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Aniteres Flores (Florida)The fact that Florida’s state legislature will not advance Arizona-style anti-immigration legislation this year is a welcome development – and one that should puncture several myths that surround the politics of immigration. 

For one, the developments in Florida should make Republican strategists think twice as they seek to use immigration as a wedge issue and advance the notion that pushing Arizona copycat laws is a smart political strategy for the GOP (It’s not).

Here’s why:

State senate president Mike Haridopolous, running for the Republican nomination to U.S. Senate, made a deal with the Tea Party to do what he could to pass an anti-immigration bill in the Sunshine State.  After Spanish-language radio advertisements highlighted the role key Hispanic legislators were playing in providing cover to Haridopolous as he rammed through the legislation, Sen. Anitere Flores and House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera came under intense scrutiny.  They denounced the legislation, and it finally died. 

The zeal of this fringe group of Republican hard-liners proved to be no match for the power of the Hispanic vote in Florida and the state’s business community, which was extremely worried that the law would negatively impact Florida agriculture, tourism, and reputation on the world stage — just like SB 1070 did for Arizona.      

The developments in Florida also tested the idea — popular among anti-immigration restrictionists like Rep. Lamar Smith — that the GOP can court Latino voters with a few tweaks in their overall brand. 

According to Lamar Smith, an outspoken member of the “Mass Deportation Caucus,” there is no need to change the Republican Party position on immigration reform, just change the “tone” of the debate. All they need, according to Mr. Smith, is to run a few more Latino candidates.  As our report from earlier this year makes clear, adding more Latino Republicans to the GOP ticket is not enough to win Latino voters. In fact, neither Governors Brian Sandoval of Nevada or Susana Martinez of New Mexico came even close to winning the Latino vote.  

To win over the Latino vote, the Republican Party really does have to move away from a mass deportation strategy to embrace comprehensive immigration reform. They apparently didn’t get the memo