By Elise Cooper
The USA is a country of changing demographics. With this shift the Republican Party needs to rethink its strategy while retaining its core values. The Hispanic community cast approximately eleven million ballots, with President Obama getting 70% of the vote. Mitt Romney’s loss brought into focus the need for Republicans to court the Hispanic vote. Since many have the same values as Republicans the million-dollar question is how do Republicans appeal to the Latinos, and tackle the complicated immigration reform issue? American Thinker interviewed experts about this question.
Lorena Lopez, editor of Iowa’s leading Spanish news source, La Prensa, told American Thinker that this election proved to Latinos that they have a voice. She makes a good point since her state has a 5% Latino population, which was approximately the margin of Romney’s loss. Since the Latino population is growing and becoming more influential Republicans should consider what Newt Gingrich said in a television interview, “that the Republican Party has to be open to and listening to people who are going to be a major part of our future, and unless we do that, we’re going to be a minority party.”
Lorena echoes Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s (R-FLA) sentiment, “Republicans need to do a better job. We don’t have to change our philosophy, principles, or modify our position. What we need to do is to speak to people in a more inclusive manner and not be so insulting. The problem is the way in which we talk and express ourselves seem so divisive, dismissive, and unkind to the Latino community.”
Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) whose district is largely Hispanic, sees the Democrats winning the public relations battle. Republicans should take a lesson from him and become more visible. They should communicate and reach out to the community on issues that concern them. Otherwise, “the Democrats will continue to vilify us with Hispanics by using fear tactics. They have defined us. We have not been able to define ourselves. The Republican Party has done a very poor job in explaining the message of common interests.”
Everyone interviewed felt that the Republican rhetoric towards illegals is a form of disrespect. Lorena cannot understand how the Republican Party embraces family values but is willing to call for separating Latino families. As she toured Iowa to talk with fellow Latinos she was told time and again that there was no way Romney would get their support considering his comments about self-deportation. Mario H. Lopez, President of the Conservative Hispanic Leadership Fund, a native San Diegan, explained that the Hispanics heard in Romney’s comments that “he wanted to make a Hispanic’s life miserable so they would leave. There is no compassion in that statement. It’s not what people say that is important, but what people hear. A lot of folks were turned off by the rhetoric whether they were Puerto Ricans, Cubans, or Mexicans. They heard hope from Obama and racist remarks from Romney. This rhetoric is extremely harmful.”
He and Lorena point out that their community shares the same ideology, regarding social issues, as do Republicans. Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen argues that the Hispanic community, as with all Americans, want smaller government that embraces small business as well as putting forth an economic plan with less taxes and regulations.
How can Republicans overcome the Hispanic perception of the party? Mario suggests having Congressional Republicans go into the neighborhoods and talk about the issues. Congressman Paul Gosar (R-AZ), whose district is largely Hispanic, did just that and won handily. To him, the key is to ask a lot of questions of the community, and listen to their answers. “We should not interpret what the Hispanic community wants. If you give the facts and ask questions they will understand. For example, how should we pay for financial aid to illegal immigrants if there is no money in the budget? Or those here illegally are fleeing Mexico because there is no rule of law so how is it that we should support them in violation of America’s rule of law, our Constitution?”
Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA) told American Thinker that there is in place a work permit system for agriculture and high tech workers. This system is a way to settle the illegal immigration issue since people can come to America to work by obtaining permits and ID. Congressman Gosar agrees and points out that in his district of Yuma there is a work permit system but there is so much red tape it is unworkable. Many interviewed do not want those who would receive work permits to enjoy benefits such as Social Security and Medicaid. Yet, they want to hold employers responsible for supplying to the workers a group health care policy while they are in the U.S.
Congressman Tom McClintock (R-CA) noted that in the 1950′s there was a successful work permit program, and a border that was not porous. He would like to see the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act enforced since it maintained that the border had to be secured.
Congressman Poe feels it is important for Republicans to take the lead and show leadership. He echoes what Lorena and Mario have suggested, that first and foremost there is the need to find out who is actually in this country. The bottom line is that no one is in favor of citizenship. They want some kind of status offered to those who have not committed a crime, making it legal to work here, especially the jobs Americans will not do. However, there should be no benefits given out of any kind. This should go hand in hand with reforming the current system, which everyone interviewed described as a mess. Congressman Trey Redel (R-FLA) describes the system as being bogged down in red tape and bureaucracy. He sees the need to make it more efficient, easier, and include an e-verify program with a tamper-proof ID.
To prove this point, Mario challenges American Thinker readers to go on the immigration website and investigate what is needed to immigrate to this country legally. “It is insane, with thousands of pages you have to go through and understand. You have to be a lawyer to understand everything. This is big government at its worst.” Congressman Poe agrees and pointed out that in his district caseworkers spend more time helping people trying to come to America legally than any other issue. “This awful system encourages people to come here illegally.”
Lorena noted that immigration reform is very important to Latinos because everyone knows somebody who has come to this country, works very hard, and wants the opportunity to succeed. Congressman Gosar and Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen see the possibility of working on legislation a little bit at a time, piecemeal efforts that might be easier to get through Congress, but will not offer amnesty.
Border security must go hand in hand with any immigration reform. Lorena told American Thinker that Latinos believe in border security. She gave the analogy of having locks on her house to keep unsavory characters from entering. Congressman-elect Radel and Congressman David Valadao (R-CA) believe that the Hispanic population is very concerned about criminals, the drug cartels, and possible terrorists entering the U.S. Congressman Radel feels, “They know it is a national security issue which affects them. We need to communicate that more than a decade after 9/11 we still have a porous border which shows we have failed miserably on this issue.” Congressman Poe goes further, saying his constituents consider border security a quality-of-life issue. “Just look at human trafficking that comes into the US. The Hispanic community realizes that most of those young girls are of Hispanic origin. They are concerned and rightfully so.”
While the president and the Democrats do the talk they never do the walk. Congressman Nunes refers to them as ‘”the emperors without any clothes on’ regarding immigration reform and border security. The Democrats do not communicate with them and ask them their opinions. The Democrats lump them together as a monolithic culture. Hispanic refers to people from different heritages and backgrounds. They should not be characterized with one broad brush.”
Hopefully, this will not become the issue of the day, one that is discussed only once every four years. There is a need to start making overtures to the Hispanic community to convince them the “R” word does not stand for “racist.” Issues important to Republicans such as the 2nd Amendment, lower taxes, less regulations, and reducing the debt can only be achieved if they win elections and to win elections Hispanics have to be convinced that they share a lot of the same values.
The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews, author interviews, and has written a number of articles on national security, political, and foreign policy.