Republicans are understandably and laudably concerned about expanding their electoral base to include more Hispanics. But it’s insulting to assume that Hispanics will vote for you, as some leading Republicans seem to, only if you turn a blind-eye toward those who have entered the country illegally via “economy class” (that’s how making it across our open southern border was described in the movie Spanglish). As one GOP Hill staffer puts it, “it borders on racism to think that Hispanics automatically support amnesty for illegal immigrants over security at our borders.”
Indeed, Steve Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, notes that: “polls show that for actual Hispanic voters, immigration ranks as a relatively low priority. So it’s not clear this is a way to win Hispanic voters.” He adds that “for actual Hispanic voters who might vote Republican, they tend to be more law-and-order types, so again it’s not clear that this is a winner politically.” “Law-and-order types” would generally nod in sincere agreement when President Bush talks about the “American Dream” being open to folks who “work hard and play by the rules.” They want rules to be the nation’s priority before we announce an official amnesty (codifying out current general non-enforcement policy) for those who have already broken said rules.
Hispanic voters, like every other voter in the pool of potentials, will likely be won over by Republicans if they see GOP candidates leading on the war on terror, the economy, and so-called social issues, and so forth–not because they were pandered to on immigration.
In fact, in the days after the 2004 presidential election, pollster Dick Morris, assessing the returns, wrote: “There are two reasons for Bush’s success among Hispanics. The most important seems to be his emphasis on social values issues, particularly his opposition to gay marriage.” President Bush had jumped nine percentage points with Hispanic voters since 2000. Though Morris, who’s worked for Mexican president Vicente Fox (no fan of Americans taking border-enforcement seriously), also credited supposedly pro-Latino positions like increasing bilingual education, he at least highlighted that there’s more to Hispanic voters than support for or a shrug toward illegal immigration–something some of the current political rhetoric all but ignores.
The GOP needn’t be defensive about having a backbone on immigration reform. Besides the simple fact that stiff immigration law is the right direction, it is also not necessarily a loser position. For example, former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson lost California for Republicans when he campaigned against an effort to keep state benefits from illegal immigrants, while part of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s successful campaign was opposing drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants.
But instead of embracing a perfectly sane enforcement-first position, GOP insiders warn that Republicans will become “an anti-immigration party” if they show “restrictionist” leadership. One recent Pew poll reported only 22 percent of Republicans favor letting illegal immigrants stay here permanently (37 percent of Democrats).
While Republican officials condemn their own for supposed xenophobia for fear of not winning over Hispanics, they might stop to consider they are not only insulting potential voters, but their own base. And as for the Hispanic voters they want so much to court, my aforementioned Hill staffer cautions: “the GOP would be suicidal to fall for the soft bigotry of assuming all Hispanics want amnesty first, security later.”
–(c) 2006, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.