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Memo to Mitt:  Endorsement from Lamar Smith & Other Anti-Immigrant Leaders Will Hurt You

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The news that the leading anti-immigrant architect in the U.S. Congress, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), has endorsed Mitt Romney for President raises persistent questions about Gov. Romney’s political and policy acumen.

From a political perspective, Lamar Smith joins an illustrious cast of anti-immigrant ringleaders whose endorsements and support Romney has recently welcomed.  At least four states with significant Hispanic electorates – Florida, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico – are among the key swing states that will decide who wins the presidency in 2012.  Most experts are predicting that Republicans have to win 40% of the Latino vote to defeat Obama.  Yet Romney seems intent on proving his anti-immigrant bona fides by talking tough on immigration and associating himself with the leading figures and most extreme legislative components of the anti-immigrant movement – developments he won’t be able to run away from during the general election.

In addition to Lamar Smith, Romney has recently received the endorsements and solicited support from the following anti-immigrant ringleaders:

  • Arizona’s “Complete the Danged Fence” Sheriff, Paul Babeu:  Before Lamar Smith, Romney welcomed Pinal County, AZ Sheriff Paul Babeu to his endorsement tally – the Sheriff in the infamous “Complete the Danged Fence” television ad who backed the disastrous Arizona anti-immigrant bill, and touts himself as an expert on border security despite having zero miles of the border under his jurisdiction.  Among Babeu’s lowlights include an April 2010 appearance on Fox News, where he said that, “crime is literally off the charts here in Arizona.  We have some of the highest crime statistics in America, with officers being assaulted, officer-involved shootings, carjackings, home invasions.”  Actually, according to FBI crime statistics, at the time of Babeu’s appearance, crime was down in general across Arizona, including Babeu’s Pinal County.
  • The Leader Who Shepherded Passage of Alabama’s Worst-in-the-Nation Anti-Immigration Law:  Earlier in October, Romney received the endorsement of the Alabama Speaker of the House, Mike Hubbard, who had a large role in the passage of that state’s Draconian, “Arizona on steroids” anti-immigration law.  Despite the outcry over the law from business and civil rights groups, and continued stories about the law’s devastating impact on the state’s economy, Hubbard said “I make no apologies for what we passed…I’m proud of what we passed. We did it for the right reasons. We have more bills like that coming. We’re just getting started.”
  • Pining for Tom Tancredo and Joe Arpaio?:  Single issue policymaker Tom Tancredo – all immigration, all the time – endorsed Romney after Tancredo dropped out of the 2008 presidential campaign.  This time around, Tancredo has not endorsed any candidate, but says of Romney, he “has not wavered on immigration since we talked just before I endorsed him in the last election…That’s a good sign.”  Meanwhile, Romney also has sought the endorsement notorious anti-Latino Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Let me get this straight, Mitt Romney now counts endorsements from the leading congressional anti-immigrant figure, Lamar Smith, as well as leading figures behind the passage of the two most extreme state anti-immigrant bills – Alabama and Arizona?  For a candidate whose best ‘vote for me’ argument to Republicans is that he is electable in a potential general election match-up, Romney’s recent endorsements seem instead calculated to alienate Latinos and shrink the number of potential battleground states in the process.  His full-fledged embrace of the leading lights of the anti-immigrant movement won’t be taken kindly or forgotten by Latino voters.  The Obama campaign must be watching with glee.”

According to new polling of Latino voters released by Latino Decisions/impreMedia, 46% of Latino respondents had no opinion or were not familiar with Mitt Romney.  As a whole, the Republican Party still faces low approval among Latino voters, and only 22% of Latino voters said they were likely to support the Republican presidential nominee.  The polling also showed that Latino voters continue to be animated by the immigration issue, ranking it as the top issue for Washington to address, alongside economy/jobs (both received 42% support as the top issue named by Latino voters).   Judging by Romney’s associations, endorsements, and recent rhetoric, don’t expect those numbers to improve.

Separate from the questionable politics, Romney’s embrace of Lamar Smith also raises questions about his policy perspective.  Rep. Smith’s desired mandatory E-Verify legislation, which Romney supports, is running into a firestorm of opposition across the ideological spectrum.  In the words of the Wall Street Journal, “Conservative, tea-party and libertarian groups have joined liberals in fighting a signature Republican bill in Congress that would crack down on illegal-immigrant workers.  The legislation, they argue, would hurt businesses and employees while expanding government regulation.”  

Said Sharry, “For a man who thinks that government does little right and should steer clear of burdensome new regulations on business, it’s curious for Romney to embrace mandatory E-Verify and to welcome the support of Lamar Smith, a man proposing ‘government as the solution’ through a new and ineffective Big Brother program like E-Verify.” 

For more information, see the America’s Voice report on the 2012 Republican field and immigration: Why Do Elephants Put their Heads in the Sand?

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