IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Immigration Stall Turning Off GOP-Voting Hispanics

Latinos attending the U.S. HIspanic Chamber of Commerce summit said they want Republicans to move now on immigration reform.
Image: Morning mist covers the U.S. Capitol dome in Washington
Morning mist covers the U.S. Capitol dome in Washington, January 15, 2014. JONATHAN ERNST / Reuters

WASHINGTON — They were approximately one quarter of the Latino electorate in the last presidential election. They voted Republican.

Yet, while gathered this week at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, these Republican-voting Hispanics seemed generally fed up with the lack of legislative action on immigration reform in the GOP-led House. The effect it is having on their future support for the party, however, is varied.

The two-day chamber summit also drew business-minded Latinos who vote for Democrats, but the attendees were a political mix with sufficient numbers of Republican loyalists to draw the GOP’s party chairman Reince Preibus, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin and others who have skipped other Latino groups’ gatherings in the nation’s capital this year.

Republic-voting Hispanics seemed generally fed up with inaction on immigration reform, though the effect on their future party support varied.

Hugo Perez, managing director of United Data Technologies in Doral, Fla., dismissed the Republicans' “trust gap” with President Barack Obama as a reason for setting aside immigration reform. He said it is an excuse used by the House GOP for not doing what they don’t want to do.

“I’m grossly disappointed with how they don’t work together,” Perez said of Congress generally. “They are elected to go out and do stuff and most people who have taken office, they are brilliant, but their egos get in the way and they lose sight of what they want to do.

“With the immigration stuff, they are just not giving it the attention it deserves. You got to take it to the last mile,” Perez said, adding that the GOP should advance legislation addressing the 11 million in the country illegally, including young immigrants known as DREAMers.

While he may still vote Republican and the inaction won't keep him from showing up at the ballot box, Perez said he might skip a name or two on the ballot over the issue.

The GOP has passed four bills out of committee dealing with various immigration issues. The toughest — whether to give legal status or a path to citizenship to the about 11 million people illegally here, including DREAMers and creating a guest worker program — have yet to be addressed.

Although the House GOP has been taking a step-by-step approach on immigration reform, rather than push through a massive comprehensive bill as the Senate did, it's been a year since leadership turned its back on the sweeping bill passed in the Senate last June.

While work may be continuing behind the scenes on crafting legislation, prospects for House floor votes on those bills are dim. Some House members have spoken of waiting until 2015, after they know the outcome of mid-term elections and whether the GOP wins back the Senate.

Lea Márquez-Peterson, president and CEO of the Tucson, Ariz., Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said she accepts the House’s need to take its step-by-step approach.

But she also said “I want to see immigration reform happen now.” The insistence on an immediate fix to the immigration system she said is not merely a Latino concern, but also a business concern.

“We hear often from our members that we need a qualified workforce. We continue to have jobs go unfilled,” she said.

Arturo Guerra of the Guatemala Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles said his chamber represents Guatemalans with businesses based in the U.S. Their businesses vary from markets to butcher shops to gas stations and include doctors, dentists, attorneys and other professionals.

“As Republicans we feel very disappointed with the political views, the way they are looking at this issue,” said Guerra. “I would say a lot of Hispanics are inclined to be Republicans but a lot of them are turning away or have turned away since we started this debate on immigration.”

“As Republicans we feel very disappointed with the political views, the way they are looking at this issue.”

Franklin Garcia, chairman of the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, counts himself among such Hispanics. He left the party in 2006 “because of the Republicans the way they treated Hispanics and I’m thinking of going Democrat now because I think the Democrats deserve it.”

Not everyone agrees the Democrats have done enough. Guerra said Democrats had plenty of opportunities to address immigration reform and didn’t. Lolita Mancheno-Smoak chair of the board of the MidAtlantic Chamber of Commerce said she agrees with GOP members who say they don’t trust the president, citing his promise on health care that if you like your health insurance you can keep it.

But Perez said he thinks the president also should stop foot dragging as well. “At this point I would absolutely defer deportations,” he said. Guerra agreed, saying Obama should take executive action right away “if he wants to please the community.”

Although some still seemed willing to support Republicans in elections, Marquez-Peterson said that doesn’t mean GOP members willl escape political consequences.

“There’s a number of PACs (political action committees) and organizations that support all types of candidates and so making sure we’re expressing our disappointment if federal immigration reform doesn’t happen - could have impact on campaign funding in the future. Who knows?” she said.