Weakening the Democratic Base, Part 9: Hispanics

Recently, Barack Obama gave a speech on immigration to an adoring audience in El Paso, Texas.  That speech was generally panned by those on the right, the left, the middle, the upside downs, the sideways, and most importantly the Hispanic community.  Instead of offering up a coherent Administration policy and strategy, he delivered a highly partisan speech dripping in sarcasm that attracted guffaws from the assembled, but that said very little at the end of the day.  As many have noted, Obama speaks out both sides of his mouth when it comes to immigration.  For example, when comprehensive immigration reform was a more realistic possibility under George W. Bush, it was Obama among other union crony Senators who insisted on bill-killing pro-union amendments.  Congress lost a golden opportunity to reform our immigration laws when Obama was a Senator.  Republicans must not let the Hispanic community forget this fact.  But equally important, Republicans cannot get behind the same ball where Obama now finds himself.

Everyone is quite aware of the growing Hispanic population in the United States.  In fact, to hear the Latino community talk, its more like a threat sometimes.  In 2008, Obama received 67% of the Hispanic vote nationally.  But I read an interesting fact in 2008: in Texas, if every Hispanic voted for Obama, he still would have lost the state’s electoral votes.  That will not always be the case given the increase in the Hispanic population in certain states.  Certainly in other states- Colorado, Nevada, Florida- the Hispanic vote played a greater role.  Today, 65% of registered Hispanic voters identify with or lean towards the Democratic Party- the highest level in a decade.  Some of the erosion in Republican support is due to changing demographics.  A good portion of recent Latino immigrants are low-skilled and less educated than previous counterparts.  Hence, they are more apt to follow the pie-in-the-sky-hand-out-a minute Democratic Party.

As recently as 2010, Hispanic support for Democratic candidates held steady at 65% despite the Republican midterm tsunami.  Should this party strength hold up in 2012, then Obama- despite his action or inaction- can expect identical support from Hispanics that he received in 2008.  In 2010, however, the likelihood of voting, or even paying attention to the elections, had decreased below 2008 levels.  Among registered Republican Latinos, there was greater turn out than registered Democratic Latinos.  Yes, there are registered Republican Latino voters and their turn out in 2012 is vitally important to offset the others so a targeted turn out the vote campaign is a necessity.

As with the black vote, the idea is not to necessarily flip the entire voting block to your side but to weaken the Democratic support in key states.  And for this, there must be outreach to the Hispanic community on the issues they find most important.  According to the Pew Hispanic Center,  93% of Latinos rank education as their top concern followed by cost of living, jobs, health care, crime, and then immigration reform.  Of course, the issue of immigration reform will come up in the campaign.  However, it need not be the be-all-and-end-all issue with Hispanics.  Instead, Republicans need to emphasize these other issues first and foremost through articulate policy statements.  They must emphasize that every American stands to benefit over the policies of their liberal Democratic counterparts.  Hispanic children will benefit from school choice.  Hispanic families will benefit from affordable energy, food and housing prices.  Hispanic workers will benefit from job creation and from a true, market-based health care reform package, as they will from safe and secure neighborhoods.

Of course, the rabble rousers like La Raza, SEIU and ACORN will rile up the Hispanic community and obscure the facts.  But, facts are facts and the fact is that under Obama, deportations are at an all time high.  The fact is that Obama rammed through health care reform to the detriment of all.  As should be throughout the campaign, the economy- specifically, Obama’s economy- needs to be emphasized and these race baiting attempts by special interest groups ignored.

As regards immigration reform, there is no doubt the subject cannot be avoided.  Obama likes to draw attention to the increased border security measures under his watch.  Whether they or a sour economy is the reason for the decreased flow of illegal immigrants remains to be seen.  But, lets not wait for that day.  Illegal immigrants do not come here to birth babies or use our social welfare services.  They come here for jobs, or jobs that pay more than in their native countries.  Pontificating about anchor babies or suggesting changes to the 14th Amendment as much obscures and derails an intelligent discussion on immigration as Obama’s gibberish in El Paso.

Instead, a policy that stresses bringing skilled workers must be a priority over family reunification efforts.  It has worked extremely well in Canada and Australia and given America’s advantages over those countries, it would work equally, if not better here.  Secondly, there will always be a need for low skilled workers- all sides agree on that point.  Hence, a temporary guest worker program would make sense.  At one time, we had exactly that, and illegal immigration in search of jobs was not a problem.  However, then employment sponsorship was a prerequisite and that led to widespread worker abuses.  Learn from what was successful.  A portable, 3-year worker visa would be a step in the right direction.

To me anyway, it does not make sense to address the issue of illegal immigrants already here until this issue as well as insurances the southern border is truly secured is proven.  Because once we move in the direction of possibly legalizing the currently illegal, there is no incentive to stop a future wave of illegal immigrants.  The first thing is diplomatic.  Why is it that the onus of responsibility for border security falls disproportionately on the United States?  Has anyone ever told or suggested that Mexico needs to secure their northern border to stop illegal crossings?  The fact is, given the amount of repatriated dollars, Mexico has no incentive to stop that flow of labor across the border.  Holding the Mexican government more accountable is a must.  Secondly, since they come here for jobs and since we may have this guest worker program, employer use of E-Verify must be mandatory.  Obama touts the fact that the Federal government uses it with contractors and such, then he directs his Justice Department to challenge state laws that mandate its use.  His logic makes no sense and his policy is hypocrisy.

Within the Latino community, there is not, contrary to belief, overwhelming consensus on what to do with illegal immigrants here.  A minority- only 28%- approve of blanket amnesty.  In fact, 13% approve of forced deportations.  Regarding that, the forced deportation of all illegal immigrants is not realistic despite what Tancredo says.  So, what to do?  There are many options available.  A majority of Hispanics (53%) do not believe in blanket amnesty.  Instead, they believe in background checks, learning English, paying fines and payment of back taxes should be prerequisites for being considered for legal status.  These measures coupled with some probationary period seems like logical ultimate solutions.  However- and it is a big one- it cannot be considered until the enforcement infrastructure is in place first.  I seriously doubt walls, fences and drone aircraft will stop the truly desperate.  Blocking them from employment once here illegally will prove a huge disincentive.  For that, we need mandatory E-Verify and serious civil fines against willful employer violations.  Additionally, there are items like whether state or local officials should help enforce immigration laws (of course they should; more boots on the ground), workplace raids (likely until real reform is enacted), and whether states should require proof of citizenship to obtain driver’s licenses (of course its within the purview of a state’s rights and is commonsense).

This is a unique time for the Republican Party and the legal Hispanic community and possibly the soon-to-be partially legal ones also.  While Obama sits and dithers, Hispanic support is waning ever so slightly for him and the Democratic Party.  Republicans must jump on and take advantage of that angst in the Latino community.  Identity politics will naturally play a role along the way that will drown out the voice of Republican reason and that is to be expected, and that is the beauty.  Republicans merely have to pull down the Hispanic vote for the Democrats (Obama) by 7-10 percentage points in particular states.  Forget about California, New York and Illinois- they are hopeless to the Republican cause and electoral math.  I am thinking more about Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, New Mexico and Florida- all key states in 2012.  More importantly, I am thinking about states like Texas, Arizona and Georgia- all key states in the future.