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Hispanic Leadership Conference Highlights Tug-of-War in GOP

January 23, 2011 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Tug of war

Last week, Republicans hosted a high-profile conference to reach out to Latino voters. The Hispanic Leadership Network Conference provided an opportunity for Republican presidential hopefuls and other Party leaders to address a Latino audience. 

It was also a chance for Republican Party strategists to address an issue that threatens the Party in the long term.  Many of the participants argued that, as the National Journal noted, “the GOP is the natural home for Hispanic voters, who tend to be socially conservative.” 

In the last two national elections, however, Hispanic voters overwhelmingly found their home in the Democratic Party.

Conference co-chair and Florida ex-Governor Jeb Bush summarized the problem Republicans are having in an NPR report prior to the conference:

"…we have a situation right now where Republicans send out signals that Hispanics aren't wanted in our party, not by policy so much as by tone," he says.

Former U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director Alfonso Aguilar, who now heads the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, noted that it’s a problem of policy as well.

Immigration ... is that one issue that prevents us from winning the support of Latino voters."

While the early outreach to Latinos is a smart move, the conference also highlighted the predicament the Republican Party is in with Latino voters.  It was telling that none of the Republican presidential hopefuls, with the exception of former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, participated in the conference.  Although this was a Latino outreach event, according to the National Journal, Pawlenty stuck to his standard stump speech, steering clear of diversity issues and mentioning immigration only in the context of the “rule of law.”  He didn’t mention that he has embraced the movement among anti-immigration hard-liners to change the 14th Amendment to deny citizenship to the children of undocumented parents.

Some participants, who did address the issue, blamed Democrats for the lack of progress on immigration reform. As Andrea Nill noted over at the Center for American Progress, Senator John Cornyn of Texas went so far as to blame President Obama for breaking his promise on immigration reform, and portrayed himself as a champion of immigration reform.

One small detail: during the entire course of the 111th Congress, Cornyn showed no sign of breaking with his colleagues who promised to filibuster reform, and when a bill finally did make it to the floor of the Senate (the DREAM Act), only three Republican Senators voted to end the filibuster against it.  Cornyn was not one of them. 

This display of a profound lack of any sense of personal responsibility is bizarre.  It is not as if the Latino community was not paying attention to who was standing in the way of immigration reform.  When the Senate voted on the DREAM Act at the end of the last Congress, the vote was broadcast live on Spanish-language television networks.

Other conference attendees kept their immigration views to themselves.  Florida’s new Governor Rick Scott welcomed the group, but did not mention that he has vowed to work to pass a law modeled on Arizona’s controversial and anti-Latino SB 1070.

Former Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart summed it up best when he said that,

“If we become perceived as an anti-immigrant party, America, being a country of immigrants, will never allow us to be the majority party.”

For the immediate future, prospects are not good for the Republican Party to appear more welcoming.  Republicans in Congress have already introduced a slew of bills to crack down on undocumented immigrants and to further fortify the border.  Some examples:

Immigration Subcommittee Co-Chair Steve King has a bill (H.R. 140) to deny citizenship to children born of undocumented parents. 

Representative Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee has introduced a bill (the CLEAR Act of 2011) that would give state and local law enforcement the power to enforce immigration laws and would deny federal funding to localities that have community policing policies in place where officers don’t inquire about immigration status.

Representative Ted Poe of Texas has a bill (H.R. 153) requiring the deployment of 10,000 additional National Guard on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Immigration hardliners Chair the Immigration Subcommittee and the full Judiciary Committee, and we expect to see a series of hearings that focus exclusively on enforcement, leaving the problem of the broken immigration system for someone else to discuss.

The Hispanic outreach conference was a good effort, but it will soon be forgotten as the news turns to those in the GOP who continue to do everything they can to make the Republican Party appear unwelcoming to Latinos.

Image by Flickr user toffehoff.

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