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Will Anti-Immigrant "Jerks" Keep Driving GOP Immigration Stance?

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“The only thing that stops them, and I’m afraid to say but it’s too damn bad, but is a gun.  That’s all that will stop them,” said one.  “Cut off their welfare and their stuff and they’ll go back!” another said.

These are just a few choice excerpts of anti-immigrant diatribes unleashed by some of the attendees at Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) recent town hall events in Arizona. McCain called one of the anti-immigrant constituents a “jerk” and refused to back down from that description. More significantly, these anti-immigrant diehards are some of the same individuals whose anti-immigrant animosity and related myths have defined the Republican Party’s immigration stance the past few years, driving the Republican Party off the demographic cliff with Latino voters in the process.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund, “The question isn’t whether these anti-immigrant diehards exist.  They do, although in shrinking numbers.  The question is what the Republican Party is going to do about them?  The GOP is at a defining moment.  Are they going to keep allowing the anti-immigrant tail to wag the dog?  Or are they going to follow the example of Senator John McCain and stand up for common sense reform in an attempt to lead the GOP out of the political wilderness?”

As Chris Cillizza writes in a Washington Post piece titled, “The Republican Party’s Immigration Problem in 2 Minutes and 41 Seconds”: “For any Republican strategist hoping that immigration reform might be on the fast track, the clip below will be a painful reminder of the difficulty of its own party politics on the issue.”

Republican pollster Glen Bolger captured the Republicans’ challenge in comments to the Post: “The GOP faces a choice between the politics of math and the politics of anecdote.  The politics of math is pretty clear.  The numbers of Hispanics are growing, and politically we cannot afford to get a shrinking piece of a growing pie.  The politics of anecdote is that illegal immigrants are only taking jobs, selling drugs, and joining gangs.  That’s clearly not the case, and we cannot pretend that it is.”

Cillizza and his Post colleague Aaron Blake sum up the stakes for the Republican Party as follows: “If Republicans go through another election cycle in 2014 in which candidates espousing strong opposition to any sort of compromise on immigration are rewarded by winning primaries, it could well do permanent damage to the party’s standing in the Hispanic community and, by extension, its paths to the White House in 2016 and beyond.  It’s no exaggeration then to say that getting immigration right, politically speaking, is absolutely critical to Republicans’ electoral hopes over the next decade or more.”

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