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GOP on Immigration: How to Lose Friends and Mobilize People

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The Political Consequences of Endorsing Elton Gallegly’s Mass Deportation Policy

Washington – Yesterday, former gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman stated at a conference at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, “My view is that the immigration discussion, the rhetoric the Republican Party uses, is not helpful; it’s not helpful in a state with the Latino population we have…We as a party are going to have to make some changes, how we think about immigration, and how we talk about immigration.”

Whitman should know; as a candidate in 2010, her fumbling hypocrisy on the immigration issue marked the turning point in her campaign against eventual winner, Gov. Jerry Brown, whom Latino voters supported by a stunning margin of 86-13%, according to Latino Decisions polling.  Dan Schnur, a major California pundit and Director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California said, “the 2010 election is a very accurate foreshadowing of the impact of the Latino vote in statewide elections, unless Republicans figure out a different way to deal with this.”

Nevertheless, Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA) today hosted another hearing in the House of Representatives’ Immigration Subcommittee that underscores his policy goal of deporting millions of undocumented immigrants.  Evidently, the memos regarding the political stupidity of Republicans’ hard-line immigration stance as well as the new Census data highlighting the demographic importance of appealing to Latino voters has yet to reach his desk.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “By entrusting their immigration policy to a man like Elton Gallegly the Republican Party couldn’t come up with a more direct way of losing the Latino vote if they tried.  He seems to want to do to Republican competitiveness on a national stage what former California Gov. Pete Wilson did for the Republican Party in California in the mid-1990s: push for hard-line policies that alienate Latino voters and doom GOP political fortunes in the process.”

The new Census data make clear the demographic and political predicament California Republicans find themselves in: between 2000 and 2010, the Latino population of California grew by 28% to its current level of over 14 million people.  Latino population growth comprised over 90% of the Golden State’s overall population growth and Latinos now constitute approximately 38% of the overall state population.  Additionally, as National Journal pointed out, these trends are certain to increase, as 51 percent of Californians younger than 18 are Latino.  The changing demographics are even occurring right before Elton Gallegly’s eyes, but we’re not so sure he sees it.  According to the Ventura County Star, in Ventura County, Gallegly’s own congressional district, the Latino population is surging, growing over the last decade “from 33 percent of all residents in 2000 to 40 percent in 2010.”

Despite these statistics, Elton Gallegly thinks a policy strategy centered around deporting the undocumented immigrant population that is largely Latino is a political winner.

What Gallegly fails to grasp, and what Whitman failed to grasp by embracing hard-line policies during the Republican primary, is that Latino voters in California and beyond view immigration through a decidedly personal lens and have little tolerance for candidates and parties who espouse mass-deportation policy prescriptions.  In polling by Latino Decisions in eight states with sizeable Latino voting blocs on election eve 2010, 60% of Latino voters said the issue of immigration was either “the most important” issue or “one of the most important” issues in determining their vote.  The numbers are higher among Spanish-dominant voters.  Earlier polling of Latino voters in twelve states by Bendixen & Amandi in found that 72% of Latino voters would not consider voting for a congressional candidate who was in favor of forcing most undocumented immigrants to leave the country (vs. only 19% of Latino voters who would consider it). 

Read America’s Voice’s Background on Elton Gallegly.

Read America’s Voice Education Fund Fact Sheet on Census 2010 and Latinos. 

America’s Voice — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.