In South Carolina, Heated Immigration Rhetoric Risks Alienating Voters

February 18, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The heated campaign rhetoric continues as Saturday’s South Carolina Republican primary approaches, but voters there are engaging in a more thoughtful immigration conversation.

In a state with a growing Latino population, 58 percent of residents favor allowing undocumented immigrants to become citizens over a period of time if they meet certain requirements, as The State in Columbia reported Monday.

That support is in line with the state’s demographic and economic realities. Agribusiness is the state’s largest industry and is highly dependent on immigrants. Business and faith leaders alike have voiced support for a better immigration process to replace our broken system.

And, as a Fusion article posted Wednesday notes, the severe talk regarding immigrants is giving pause to some Latino Christian voters in South Carolina who lean Republican.

“Many times I find that what the presidential candidates are saying is in contradiction with what the scripture has to say, especially when it comes to immigration,” said Pastor Frankie Rodriguez of Wesleyana El Camino Church in Greenville. “I believe the bible says it’s our responsibility to love and treat the immigrant right.”

Anti-immigrant rhetoric has not always been the way of the Republican Party, as Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, writes in a Wednesday op-ed headlined “Will Republicans return to Reagan’s voice on immigration?”

“It is disheartening to watch Republican presidential candidates villainize the Hispanic community, then turn around and ask for our vote,” Palomarez writes, adding later: “Our finest example of contemporary principled Republican leadership on immigration … comes from Utah, where prominent leaders in business, law enforcement and religion from across the state, including two Republican former governors, came together in 2010 to sign the Utah Compact.”

“Candidates who take a harsh tone toward immigrants are alienating some conservative voters, including some immigrants,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. “Instead, Republicans should be seizing the opportunity to bring new voters into the fold. That means adopting a more inclusive and constructive position on immigration.”