Telling Latino Immigrants to Get to the Back of the Bus Not an Effective Way to Conduct Latino Outreach
Last week the Republican National Committee (RNC) passed a new immigration resolution that was intended to reach out to Latino voters. Instead, it showed how much work the GOP still has to do to reopen diplomatic relations with the 75% of Latinos who now reject the GOP and its reluctance to embrace immigration reform with a path to citizenship.
The RNC resolution outlines a path to legal status – renewable work permits – but would prohibit a path to citizenship. It consigns both DREAMers and the rest of the 11 million undocumented immigrants to a permanent underclass. It then boldly states, and without reference to any polls, that “a majority of Americans… oppose any form of amnesty that would propose a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens.”
Oh dear. Is this the same RNC that argued clearly and convincingly in its post-election autopsy that Congress needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform? Yes. Here’s what they said:
…we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform….If Hispanic Americans hear that the GOP doesn’t want them in the United States, they won’t pay attention to our next sentence. It doesn’t matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think that we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies. In essence, Hispanic voters tell us our Party’s position on immigration has become a litmus test, measuring whether we are meeting them with a welcome mat or a closed door.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
The RNC autopsy got it right but the RNC resolution got it wrong. The autopsy is right that the GOP’s position on immigration has become a litmus test for Latino voters. But it got it horribly wrong when the resolution tells Latino immigrants they can work hard and contribute much but that it’s a closed door when it comes to earning citizenship. America is at its best when we extend the welcome mat to people regardless of race, religion and national origin, and we have been at our worst when we don’t. Surely, the RNC does not think that, in the 21st century, sending Latino immigrants to the back of the bus is good policy or good politics.
The RNC got it wrong on public opinion, too. Poll after poll shows that the majority of the nation strongly backs immigration reform with a path to citizenship (see this recap). Even Republicans and conservatives prefer the policy option of reform with a path to citizenship versus other alternatives. By comparison, the “permanent underclass” position articulated by the RNC resolution has minimal support among the public. Summarizing immigration public opinion, Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute noted, “The public supports the immigration bill 2-1 and shows unusual agreement given the divisions in the country on many other issues. It seems the only group divided on this issue is Congress.” He might have said the only group divided are the Republicans in Congress.
We had hope for this three-day RNC summer meeting held in Boston last week. Early on, RNC Chair Reince Priebus denounced as “horrific” the “self-deportation” immigration policy approach championed by 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney (and endorsed by the 2012 RNC convention platform). Yet mere hours later, the RNC passed the new resolution. Of note, Alfonso Aguilar, head of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, called the resolution “very bad language that only alienates Latinos even more.” In an article titled, “Republicans Miss Chance to Reach Out to Hispanics with Immigration Resolution,” the conservative Washington Times assessed the RNC resolution this way: “Republican leaders spent a good chunk of their summer meeting talking up their revamped Hispanic outreach efforts and then turned around and approved a resolution that could make it harder for the party to close its deficit with the nation’s fastest-growing minority group.”
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that Republicans are increasingly seeking out opportunities to appear on Spanish language media outlets. While such direct engagement is a step forward, the re-branding effort won’t amount to much if the Party demonstrates it wants to stop well short of the full reform with citizenship position overwhelmingly backed by Latino voters. The Post article highlights that on immigration, “English-language newscasts might go days without discussing the topic, but Latino audiences are eager to absorb every morsel of the months-long debate.” The Post article also quotes influential Univision anchor Jorge Ramos saying, “Every time we have an editorial meeting for our Sunday show or daily newscast, we always discuss a possible immigration story. Always, always, always.” Well, there’s one challenge, which is to get on Spanish language TV with someone who speaks the language, there’s another challenge, which is the policy and brand you are selling. The RNC resolution shows how much work there is left to do for a party already in a hole with the fastest growing groups of voters in America.
Some corners of the Republican Party already see the light on the need for the GOP to evolve already on immigration. As Jake Sherman writes in POLITICO:
Republicans in Washington are taking a piecemeal approach to immigration reform — a strategy that could give the party’s most polarizing figures a months-long platform to pop off about illegal immigrants. California Republicans have a much different line: Shut up and get it done…Already the California Republican Party is on the rocks: Democrats hold every statewide office and an unbreakable supermajority in both chambers of the state Legislature. It’s a situation top players in the state party say is the direct result of missing the demographic tidal wave before it hit — a lesson the national party should remember as they debate immigration reform…Republicans on a national level should take notice, because players in the California GOP argue that they’re merely experiencing what states like Colorado, Nevada and Texas will experience in a few years: a drastically weakened party that’s routinely rejected by booming minority populations.