Immigration Fuels Internal GOP Debate

Posted April 16, 2009 at 1:28pm

Republicans are split on whether the resurrection of the immigration debate could undermine the party’s Hispanic outreach effort ahead of the 2010 midterm elections.While the issue is also problematic for some Democrats, the GOP is in a particularly challenging position: caught between an anti-immigrant base and the need to recruit new voters. “If they keep doing what they have been doing, they will continue to lose elections,— said Mario Lopez, president of the nonpartisan Hispanic Leadership Fund. “Republicans need to stop talking like they hate immigrants.—Lopez said the debate could be a tremendous opportunity for the GOP if Republicans focus on the issue from a limited-government perspective, rather than on preventing people from coming to the United States for work.“Big government has screwed up our immigration system — perhaps that should be our starting point,— he said, rather than the traditional push to round up illegal immigrants while locking down the nation’s southern border.Sergio Rodriguera Jr., Hispanic outreach coordinator for Bush/Cheney 2004, agreed that Republicans must adjust their rhetoric to gain the confidence of the Hispanic community.“President Obama was able to garner a majority of Hispanics in 2008, but Hispanics are not a voting bloc and Republicans could cut into that percent with a candidate, like President Bush, who had ties to the community or share their entrepreneurial spirit,— Rodriguera said. “Republicans learned the lesson that angry rhetoric ostracized voters and they need to have smart policies like securing the border, allowing free trade and promoting legal immigration.—“The fact that Democrats control the White House and Congress, any conversation on immigration reform will shape the perception to Hispanics that they are taking the lead in this effort,— he added.But other Republicans insist opposition to comprehensive immigration reform is not a problem for the GOP, arguing the issue plays out differently on a state-by-state basis and will not affect nationwide outreach efforts.“It cuts both ways,— one GOP operative said, adding that most elections are candidate-centric.Some Republicans argued that despite the backlash over GOP opposition to Bush’s 2007 immigration bill — which included what critics called amnesty provisions — the disconnect between the GOP and Latinos is largely a communication problem.Joanna Burgos, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said that if Republicans clearly communicate that they are pro-legal immigration and anti-illegal immigration, the issue will actually help them in 2010. “We did not do as much outreach as we should have [in 2008]. There will be a lot more of it this time around,— she said, adding that immigration falls behind the economy, jobs and public safety as issues that are important to most Hispanic-Americans.But Marcus Epstein, the executive director for Team America — an anti-amnesty political action group founded by former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) — said it was unlikely that Hispanics would vote for Republicans no matter where they were on immigration issue.“It’s unlikely that Hispanics will vote for Republicans regardless of the immigration issue given the strong ethnic lobby and where [many] Hispanics are socio-economically,— Epstein said.He said Republicans should be seeking votes from all different demographic groups, not just focusing on Hispanics. “We think that all voters are created equal,— he said.