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Immigration: The Real Elephant in the Room at GOP Hispanic Conference

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Memo from America’s Voice Shows Why Republicans Need to Convert, Not Just Converse, on Immigration

Washington – Starting today in South Florida, the Republican-backed Hispanic Leadership Network is hosting a conference to “provide a unique opportunity for center-right leaders to speak with—and more importantly listen to—the Hispanic community,” according to conference co-chair Jeb Bush.   However, as a new America’s Voice memo makes clear, Republican leadership is stuck in a deep rut of denial and inflexibility when it comes to Latino outreach and their party’s position on immigration.  They seem to think that kinder, gentler rhetoric and reaching out on “common values”—tied to the same anti-immigrant policies—will do the trick.  Instead, Republicans should learn that appealing to Latino voters requires a real conversion on immigration reform, not just a conversation.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “The Republican Party cannot be the party of Proposition 187, the Sensenbrenner bill, Arizona’s ‘papers, please’ immigration law, Sharron Angle’s anti-Latino campaign ads, Steve King’s electric fence, Lamar Smith’s ‘deport ‘em with a smile’ proposals, and the defeat of the DREAM Act and still win a respectable share of Latino votes in 2012.  The Hispanic Leadership Network Conference could be a forum for the GOP to start redirecting the ship, but only if they address the real elephant in the room—the Party’s position on comprehensive immigration reform.  The GOP’s ‘Latino problem’ is not going to be solved simply by changing rhetoric.  It requires a change in policy too.”

The conference agenda indicates that the panel on immigration is actually about border control, and will be introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).  Cornyn voted against the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform in 2006, 2007, and 2010.  It seems that the real elephant in the room this week will be the issue of real immigration reform, and whether some Republican lawmakers will actually step forward and embrace common sense policies for the good of the country and the good of the party. 

In a new NPR piece about the conference, Alfonso Aguilar, the executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles said: “Latinos are inherently conservative: They’re socially conservative; they are entrepreneurial; they’re pro-business. Immigration … is that one issue that prevents us from winning the support of Latino voters.”  Marifeli Perez-Stable similarly captures the importance of the GOP getting right on immigration in the Miami Herald, writing, “Republicans often say that Hispanics are Republicans, they just don’t know it yet. And they won’t unless Republicans change their tone and their policy approaches on immigration.”

Over the last three elections, Latino voters have been loud and clear in their message to the GOP.  They voted increasingly Democratic in large part because the Republican Party embraced an anti-immigrant, anti-Latino agenda.  With new Census figures showing that Latino political power is still on the rise, it’s hard to imagine the Republican Party winning the presidency or a number of House and Senate races in 2012 without their votes.  But to do so, GOP leaders need to make a clean break from their recent past.  As NPR summarizes, “that is the cold, hard math of the GOP’s problem. In 2012, they need to find a way to win more than 40 percent of that vote — and not just in Florida but in other swing states, like Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico.”

According to Sharry, “Unless the Republican Party provides a real alternative, the most outspoken and aggressive anti-immigrant members of the GOP will be the Party’s faces on immigration to millions of Latino voters heading into the 2012 elections.  This would be a disaster for the Republican Party and for the country, because we need a real solution to the broken immigration system.” 

Read New America’s Voice Memo on the Republican Party and Immigration

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