Washington, DC – Sunday, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) appeared for the very first time on Univision’s Al Punto – the Spanish language equivalent of a high-profile appearance on Meet the Press. His interview followed that of President Obama. What did Boehner say?
ON IMMIGRATION: When asked whether he would “consider” supporting legalization of the undocumented workforce, Boehner said: “We’re a nation of laws, and enforcing the law has to be the first step in this process. There is a way to allow [undocumented immigrants] to continue to work in the United States for a temporary period of time. And if they want to become citizens, they need to do what everybody else in the world does, and that’s apply for their home countries.”
In other words, there should be ramped up enforcement, presumably of the kind that is terrifying and dividing immigrant families already, followed by some sort of a temporary work permit, presumably with second class labor, civil, and political rights. Then, these workers should leave the country to get in line to apply for permanent resident status, despite the fact that the entire viewing audience knows that the primary cause of illegal immigration is that there simply is no “line” to get into, whether in the country of origin or here in the United States. Mr. Boehner’s too-clever-by-half sound-bite – enforcement-first, followed by guest worker status, followed by the chance to go home to get in a non-existent line – is rightly understood in the immigrant community as the ridiculous “report-to-deport” scheme first popularized by the likes of Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) in 2005.
ON LATINO VOTERS: When asked why Republicans saw their share of the Latino vote drop from 44% in 2004 to 31% in 2008, Boehner blamed unnamed candidates and the “overall political environment.” He then went on to stress the reasons he thinks the Republican Party is a “great home for Hispanics,” emphasizing family values, limited government, and school choice.
In other words, please ignore the fact that the GOP has spent many years and many millions of dollars demonizing immigrants in an effort to mobilize base voters and appeal to white swing voters. Dear Latinos, please understand that your alienation from the Republican Party is due to bad candidates and bad weather, not the statements and policy positions of a Party that wants to deny citizenship opportunities to your loved ones and deport as many of them as possible.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “If this is the best the Republican Party has to offer to Latino immigrant voters, perhaps Mr. Boehner and his colleagues in Republican leadership should stay close to Fox News and away from Spanish language television. The fact that the House Republicans’ top leader went on the most prominent political affairs show for Latino immigrant voters and recommended a stronger crackdown, second-class treatment, and what amounts to self-deportation shows that the GOP leadership just doesn’t get it. The House Republican conference is dominated by militants such as Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), former FAIR lobbyist Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA), and Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who argue that the best policy is one that ramps up enforcement until 12 million undocumented immigrants–presumably along with the four million citizen children who live in their households–are forced to leave the country.”
Sharry added, “Mr. Boehner should face the uncomfortable truth and speak it. Latino voters rejected the Republican Party in 2008 in record numbers not because of bad candidates, but because of bad policies and harsh rhetoric. As a result, Republicans have gone from being competitive with Latino immigrant voters to being shunned by them. In 2004, Spanish-dominant voters virtually split their vote between John Kerry and George W. Bush, with Kerry winning 52% – 48%; in 2008, Spanish-dominant voters turned out in record numbers and voted for Barack Obama by a margin of 75%-25%, a differential that would have been even greater had someone other than John McCain been the candidate. This is one of the most dramatic shifts in electoral support in modern American political history, and deserves a more thoughtful answer than blaming unnamed ‘candidates’ or ‘the overall political environment.’”
Meanwhile, appearing on Al Punto before Minority Leader Boehner, President Obama recommitted to making comprehensive immigration reform a reality: “I am not backing off one minute from getting this done, but let’s face it, I’ve had a few things to do. We had an economic crisis that almost saw a financial meltdown. Health care has taken longer than I would have liked, but it’s a big, tough issue. Immigration reform is gonna be tough as well, but I think we can get it done.”
Latino voters will be watching to see if President Obama delivers on his promise and makes a determined effort to enact comprehensive immigration reform that includes a means for undocumented immigrants get legal, pay their full share of taxes, and get in line to work towards citizenship. Until the Republican Party offers up more than the back of the hand to Latino and immigrant families, the question for Democrats will not be whether Latino voters turn to Republicans in the next election, but whether they turn away from Democrats for failing to move forward on reform and stay home.