As the legislative session comes to a close, the failure to quickly move on a bill addressing the crisis on the border - along with the fact that immigration legislation was not even brought to a vote - is another missed opportunity for Republicans to present a new face to Latinos going into the midterm elections in November.
It was just a year ago that the Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus stood in front of a crowd of 6,000 Latinos at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and assured them that the GOP had changed. “Republicans know we can’t truly represent America until we’re engaged in every community and every state. The old GOP didn’t do a great job of that. But the new GOP - the Growth and Opportunity Party - is doing things differently,” Mr. Priebus said at the time.
Before this year, better outreach into minority communities had been a major theme of the GOP after it lost over 70 percent of Latinos and Asians in the 2012 presidential election. In a report issued by the Republican National Committee prescribing a path to victory for the future of the party, The Growth and Opportunity Project that was established after the last presidential election concluded that the “RNC needs to carefully craft a tone that takes into consideration the unique perspective of the Hispanic community”. In the introduction of the report, the paper states, “[The RNC] needs to campaign among Hispanic … Americans and demonstrate we care about them, too”.
A Republican National Committee project launched in 2013 specifically outlined the importance of the party's outreach to Hispanics.
This new path to bridging the gap between the GOP and Hispanics is empirically justified, despite the view some have that the GOP is wasting its time with Latinos. A recent report by Latino Decisions finds that almost half of Latinos would view Republicans in a more positive light if they permitted a vote on immigration reform. In addition to Latino support, polling data strongly supports the view that a majority in the U.S., including Republicans, favors some pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
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After 2012, momentum had been building on bipartisan immigration legislation, and the Senate put forth a sweeping bipartisan proposal last year. In the House - nada, despite the fact Republican congressman Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida had drafted a bill along with Democratic congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and others in the hopes that the end of the session would bring pressure to get a bill passed. However, when it became clear that hardline Republicans would not budge unless more stringent measures were included, the proposal was pulled.
“It is disappointing and highly unfortunate, because we have a unique opportunity to secure the borders, fix our broken immigration system, and strengthen our economy," stated Diaz-Balart recently.
On the border crisis issue, with most Americans agreeing that the recent influx of immigrant children should be treated like refugees if authorities think they cannot be returned home safely, a lenient bill would not have been much of a risk for the GOP in November.
Instead, hardline Republicans seem to be treating the humanitarian crisis as a convenient target of opportunity to focus the energies of their most dedicated voters going into midterm elections in November. Maine's Republican Gov. Paul LePage protested when eight children who had crossed the border were sent to his state for care, calling them a “huge burden” on the people of Maine.
GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has called for getting rid of Obama's executive action allowing young undocumented immigrants brought here as young children to work and to pursue higher education without fear of deportation.
A recent NBC News/WSJ poll illustrates a bright line between conventional Republicans and Tea Party Republicans on the issue of immigration. While 47 percent of non-tea party Republicans said that immigration hurts our economy, 68 percent of those who identified with the Tea Party agreed that immigration was bad for the United States. And while a broad coalition of religious, business, higher education and mainstream Americans agree that our current immigration system should be revamped, and that people in this country illegally who have been here a long time and have not committed crimes should be allowed to stay, the GOP heeded the party’s more extreme views on immigration.
Granted, this also comes at the heels of a substantial policy failure by the Democrats over the last six years. Whereas President Obama had promised Latinos a solution to the immigration problem, even if expectations were low, few anticipated the aggressiveness of the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement priorities that have resulted in over 2 million deportations and many tens of thousands of broken families.
With this in mind, and with the looming election, the president is considering executive options that would allow more undocumented immigrants to stay in the country without fear of deportation, similar to his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The administration’s initial response to the refugee crisis and Democrats' inaction on immigration created an upswell of disappointment among Latino leaders, and voters in general have been unsatisfied with how the president has handled the situation.
Latino enthusiasm for Democrats going into the November elections is jeopardy, but Hispanics are also mindful of today's Republican debates to overturn DACA and broaden the militarization of the border.
Latino enthusiasm for Democrats going into the November election is in jeopardy, but Latinos are also poignantly mindful of today’s debate in which Republicans are trying to jam through proposals to overturn DACA and to broaden the militarization of the border. The latest analysis by Latino Decisions shows widespread dissatisfaction with the GOP among Latinos as a result, and that the chasm between the Republicans and Latinos continues. Presidential resolve will be a valuable reminder to Latinos that any relief to our immigration problems, if they are to come at all, depends on Democrats staying in office. Should the Republicans fail to compromise, the Democrats will be handed a fresh reminder to Latinos that participation in November is critical.
With Latino voters playing an important role in several key swing states, such as Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, Ohio, and Florida, the response by the Democratic leadership may signal they're banking on the recent fight among Republicans on the border crisis and immigration to drive home the point that the new GOP is still very much like the old GOP. No matter how disappointed Latinos are with the Democrats, the option of more Latinos voting Republican is a non-starter.
With the country growing less patient with our immigration problems, only time will tell if any new dialogue on immigration will help spur Latino participation on Election Day or serve as a depressing reminder of the limited leverage this growing Latino constituency has.