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Missed Opportunity? Republicans and Hispanic-Americans in 2012

The eventual Republican candidate for the White House in 2012 will surely have his work cut out for him with respect to garnering a sizable portion of the Hispanic vote. The GOP has lost much ground with Hispanics, even Republican-leaning ones, with the onset of a fierce immigration debate that has left Americans of Hispanic descent feeling alienated in their own country. The use of harsh rhetoric by many politicians is indicative of how politicized and divisive the immigration debate has become. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) recently made an appearance on MSNBC in which he admitted that Republicans need to improve their standing among the Hispanic electorate. “It starts with a way to address the issue of immigration in a humane and caring fashion, at the same time emphasizing a need to secure our borders because of the drug cartels and people who transport people across our border and treat them terribly.” It is quite clear that, at the least, Republican presidential aspirants need to moderate their tone on immigration. Yet, in this roller coaster primary that has been shaped by the party base (as primaries nearly always are), there have been few moments where politicians have backed away from the opportunity to lay blame on “illegals” or “anchor babies” for some of America’s economic woes.

The Republican Party must recapture the spirit of conservatism embodied by President Ronald Reagan, who supported a comprehensive immigration reform plan in 1986. President Reagan had the moral courage to do what was in America’s best interest. By making Americans out of nearly 3 million undocumented aliens, much was being added to our economy, not to mention our nation’s social fabric. This immigration act also required employers to verify the legal status of their employees, thus protecting worker’s wages in the process. President Reagan’s actions in no way signal his disavowal of conservative principles. Rather, his actions are a reaffirmation of those principles. The Republican Party must expand its base if it wishes to recapture the White House in 2012. Alienating the fastest growing demographic group in the country will not bode well for the party or the nation. The GOP now has an opportunity to reclaim some of the Hispanic support it has lost in the past few years. Polling from the Pew Hispanic Center reveals that Hispanics are very disapproving of the manner in which President Obama has handled deportations. More undocumented aliens have been deported under this Administration than at any other point in American history. That’s strong stuff, and it serves as a primary example of the President’s failure to deliver on the many promises he made to Hispanic-Americans during the 2008 election cycle.

Now is the time for the Republican Party to be bold and embrace the creation of an immigration plan that Hispanics, as well as all Americans, can find to be reasonable and beneficial to the nation. Such a plan would be devoid of extreme rhetoric and policies and would use a common sense approach that takes solid research data into account. For far too long, this is an issue that has been used repeatedly to manipulate the electorate and pander to certain interest groups. Many fail to recognize that we are talking about the separation of families, the impact to American businesses, and the security of our nation when we talk about undocumented immigration. While the depressing state of the economy is the number one issue that Hispanics are concerned about (as are all other Americans), we cannot simply expect Hispanic-Americans to begin voting for conservative candidates by default. Neither will they increasingly support a political party whose platform seems to alienate them from the larger American public. Hispanics are Americans, and their values overwhelmingly line up with conservative principles. However, the Republican Party must begin to reform itself first and foremost by changing its tone on immigration. A more humane approach is needed, as Senator John McCain mentioned. Hispanics need to feel that they are a part of America and that there is a place for them in the Republican fold. It remains to be seen whether or not Republicans receive the message in time.