Postelection panic among conservatives about the Latino vote has reached the point of absurdity — and mostly reveals the naïveté of detached political grandees who know little about the ideology and motivations of those they are now supposed to adroitly woo.
Republican postmortems have focused heavily on the Latino vote. According to exit polls, it went 70 percent for Barack Obama, and this year it might have accounted for 10 percent or so of the electorate. Presumably, this margin was an important, and in some exegeses the decisive, factor that denied Mitt Romney the presidency. Given demographic reality, then, the Republican party must in response be more inclusive, curb its illiberal and gratuitous rhetoric, and seek a “grand bargain” on illegal immigration, which will welcome Latinos into the party, and thereby result in a new 21st-century inclusive majority that will win presidential elections.
Yet, aside from the always-sound advice to be civil, show empathy for the less well off, and avoid callous rhetoric, almost all such thinking is oversimplistic, if not flawed altogether.
In the first place, why do Republicans think their conservative message is a natural one for the majority of contemporary Latinos/Hispanics — rubrics that strangely now include everyone from Cubans and upscale Argentinians to Oaxacan indigenous peoples and Hondurans? In truth, the vast majority of Latinos who vote overwhelmingly Democratic is made up of poorer immigrants from Central America and Mexico rather than Marco Rubio–like second-generation Cuban-Americans. De facto amnesty, generous entitlements, vast increases in public expenditures and hiring, and more taxes on the wealthy are understandably widely supported by both the Latino leadership and rank-and-file. Public employment is increasingly more attractive and more subject to affirmative action than the private sector, and, quite logically, its expansion is seen by poorer Latinos as a natural pathway into the middle class.
Had Republicans come out in favor of open borders and blanket amnesty, I doubt that they would have won the Latino vote — much less done much better in a state like California, given that its latest round of steep tax increases (now over 13 percent on top incomes) was widely supported by the so-called Latino community. Pundits can rail about supposedly naïve, out-of-touch Republicans who talked of self-deportation and thereby lost the Latino vote; but one just as easily might have castigated them for decrying out-of-control entitlements and food stamps, predicating legal immigration on education and skills, or criticizing unworkable and discriminatory affirmative-action policies, since these positions are also politicized as anti-Latino dog whistles.
Second, the “grand bargain” on comprehensive immigration reform envisions ending illegal immigration but granting amnesty to, at least, those who were brought here as children and are still under 25, in school or in the military, and without a criminal record. But why do Republicans think Latinos are in any significant way opposed to continuing illegal immigration? For the last 40 years, the influx of millions of illegal aliens leaving the impoverishment of Mexico by simply crossing the border, without much worry about U.S. law, has been a win/win situation for those already here. An expectation of cyclical amnesty or a general unwillingness of Americans to enforce their own laws is a magnet for millions in Latin America. In the surreal world of American liberal orthodoxy, the nanosecond a young Mexican national crosses the border, he becomes immediately eligible for affirmative action — despite having little history of victimization by the United States or claim of contemporary bias. In some 21 years of teaching at CSU Fresno I weekly mentored young illegal immigrants who were on federal and state scholarships, were recipients of the in-state tuition discount, and were courted by professional schools by virtue of being minority members with supposed historical claims against the majority. Given the disparity between life in Mexico and life in the United States, why would a voting bloc give up such advantages — especially given that the larger the pool of unassimilated illegal immigrants, the greater the avenue for second- and third-generation Mexican-Americans to offer them collective representation and advance their own careers in government, media, and academia on the basis of collective ethnic grievances?
Imagine, for a minute, that the Republican leadership did attempt to negotiate the “grand bargain,” a platitude as constantly voiced as it is never defined. If Republicans were willing to grant DREAM Act–like amnesty, what exactly would they ask for in exchange? The completion of the border fence? Employer fines? E-Verify? Deportation of millions of “unDREAM” illegal immigrants who do not meet the above criteria?
For all practical purposes, “comprehensive reform” means granting amnesty but also leaving the border fence uncompleted, having a guest-worker program, and issuing green cards to millions of illegal residents. If we were to deport the tens of thousands of Mexican nationals in our prisons, or the hundreds of thousands on some form of public assistance, does anyone believe that would win over the Latino leadership? The Reagan-era (1986) Simpson-Mazzoli Act (which required employers to verify immigration status, and which also amnestied about 3 million illegals) led to greater influxes from Mexico, did not stop calls for more amnesties, and certainly did not swell Latino support for Republicans.