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Will the Republican Party Ever Listen to Friendly Advice on Immigration & Latino Voters?

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Or Continue to Alienate the Fastest-Growing Group of New Voters? 

Prominent conservative voices are speaking out against the Republican Party’s hardline immigration stance, while noting the inextricable link between the GOP’s current immigration positioning and the Party’s dangerously low levels of support from Latino voters.  While the volume of friendly advice to Republicans to adapt their immigration policy and tone has increased, the Party’s presidential candidate and leadership in Congress have yet to show that they are listening.

Yesterday, a coalition of evangelical leaders joined together to launch an effort to convince Members of Congress and congregations alike that the nation needs to pass fair and humane immigration reform legislation.  Of note, the coalition includes Focus on the Family and other organizations traditionally allied with conservative causes.  As the New York Times recapped, “Some of the nation’s most influential evangelical groups urged a solution to illegal immigration on Tuesday that defies the harsh rhetoric of the Republican primary race, which continues to undermine Mitt Romney’s appeal to Hispanic voters…The evangelical leaders expressed opposition to such notions as ‘self-deportation,’ which Mr. Romney favored in a Republican debate and which urges strict enforcement of laws to encourage illegal immigrant workers to leave the country.”  As Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, stated, “This is the tipping point to finally convince Republican operatives that they must redeem the narrative on immigration reform in order to be a viable party in America’s political landscape in the 21st century.”

Meanwhile, recent comments by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush on Republican problems with Latino voters continue to generate discussion.  At a breakfast sponsored by Bloomberg View in New York, former Governor Bush spoke of Mitt Romney’s challenges with Latino voters, saying “There is work to do…I’d say that, if an objective teacher was grading where we are right now, I’d say ‘needs improvement’ – hopefully not an unfinished grade.”  According to a paraphrased recap of Bush’s remarks by Bloomberg News, Bush linked the poor polling to Romney’s hardline immigration stance, noting that “the Republican Party’s primary elections, in which the candidates’ debate about immigration centered on tougher border control rather than finding a way to accommodate millions of undocumented immigrants already in the U.S., has left the party with a challenge ahead of November’s elections.”  Bloomberg editorialized after Governor Bush’s comments that, “The Republican Party seems to be in no mood for Bush nostalgia.  Perhaps its leaders should reconsider.  At a June 11 meeting with journalists sponsored by Bloomberg View, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush identified two issues on which an increasingly narrow Republican orthodoxy undermines the interests of the party and the nation. In each instance, at least one President Bush occupies the high ground, morally and politically.  The first is immigration…”

However, conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat had a different reaction to Governor Bush’s comments.  Writing on the Times political blog, Douthat attacks as “conventional wisdom” the notion that Hispanic voters care about immigration and that the GOP should moderate its positions in order to attract more of this cohort.  He cherry picks a few isolated statistics to argue that Latinos vote on other issues, they are more amenable to hard line immigration positions and they won’t be such a big factor in elections for another couple of decades.  Douthat’s thesis is a warmed over version of the “they don’t care and they don’t count” argument advanced by such Latino “experts” as Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies.  It is comforting to GOP hardliners but misleading.  It overlooks the fact that George W. Bush won in 2004 in part because of his pro-immigration reform position and his strength with Hispanic voters and in the swing states of Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Florida.  It overlooks the fact that Barack Obama won those same states in 2008 in part because of his pro-immigration reform position and his strength with Hispanic voters.  It overlooks the fact that in 2010 Latino voters mobilized to vote against anti-immigrant candidates and for Democrats that leaned into the issue such that they saved the U.S. Senate for the Democrats.  And it overlooks a substantial body of polling from Latino Decisions that shows that immigration has emerged as a litmus test issue for the majority of Hispanic voters, trumping economic stands they might agree with in favor of candidates who are welcoming to Latino immigrants.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “We predict that coming out of the 2012 election leading Republicans will learn a hard truth: they will not see the inside of the White House again until they reopen diplomatic relations with Latino voters and sue for peace on immigration reform.  It’s heartening that Jeb Bush and evangelical leaders get it.  It’s now time for the other grownups in the Republican Party to get it.”

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