Cover Story

Latin persuasion

"Latin persuasion" Continued...

Issue: "The GOP and Hispanics," May 19, 2012

Democrats still enjoy a sizeable lead among Hispanic registered voters. But disappointment over high unemployment and unfulfilled promises is taking its toll.

Since 2008 the share of Hispanic registered voters who say the Democratic Party has more concern for Hispanics has declined 10 percentage points from 55 percent to 45 percent. Meanwhile the share of Hispanic registered voters who say the Republican Party has more concern for Hispanics doubled from 6 percent to 12 percent, according to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center. Another Pew study also showed that immigrants become more Republican the longer they have been in the country.

Currently nine Hispanic Republicans serve in the U.S. Congress, compared with 22 Democrats. But the six Hispanics elected to Congress in 2010 were all Republicans as were the two Hispanic governors elected in 2010: Nevada's Brian Sandoval and New Mexico's Susana Martinez. The National Republican Congressional Committee has identified more than two dozen non-incumbent Hispanics running as Republicans for congressional office this fall (though some are running for the same seat).

While the Republican Party focuses on joblessness among Hispanics, other Republicans are working to soften the party's immigration image. "We must admit that there are those among us who have used rhetoric that is harsh and intolerable," Sen. Rubio, a Cuban-American, said at an event earlier this year in Miami. "We must admit, myself included, that sometimes we've been too slow in condemning that language for what it is."

Included among Obama's failed promises was the passage of the DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for children brought here illegally by their parents if they go to college or serve in the military. The bill remains highly popular among Hispanics but is opposed by most Republicans as a form of amnesty.

Rubio is preparing to introduce his own version of the DREAM Act. It would give legal status but not citizenship to college-bound students brought here illegally by their parents. They would be eligible for a nonimmigrant visa that would allow them to go to college. After graduation they could remain in the country legally while working, and they could apply for residency and ultimately citizenship like other visa holders.

Rubio argues that it is unrealistic to expect the government to deport the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants. To him the key question is "how can we deal with this issue in a way that both honors our legacy as a nation of immigrants but also honors our legacy as a nation of laws?" Romney refused to state on April 23 whether he supports Rubio's version of the DREAM Act. "It has many features to commend it, but it's something that we're studying," he said.

Romney said he would veto the Democratic version of the DREAM Act and stated throughout the primary season that his first priority is border security. But he admitted during an April fundraiser that if Republicans can't attract more Hispanic voters it "spells doom for us."

A growing number of supporters are suggesting that one way Romney can overcome the immigration issue is by selecting a Hispanic as his running mate. Nearly one third of Hispanic voters in a recent poll said they would consider voting for a Republican candidate for president if the running mate was Hispanic.

Feeding speculation that he might be the pick, Rubio joined Romney on the campaign trial for the first time on April 23 in Aston, Pa. Like Cruz often does in Houston, Rubio discussed his family's modest upbringing. He then used that narrative to attack Obama's push for wealth redistribution: "I don't ever remember my parents saying to me, 'You know what, if only we took something away from them and they gave it to us, things would be better.'"

Democrats will be reluctant to stop using the immigration issue as a weapon to score political points. On April 19, several House Democrats, backed by a handful of illegal immigrants, held a press conference just steps from the U.S. Capitol. They took turns bashing Republicans' stance on immigration. Trying to convince Hispanics that their identity should be tied to the Democratic Party, Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., declared that "as long as Republican candidates cling to radical anti-immigrant ideology they will lose another generation of Hispanic voters." Democrats trying to keep control of the Senate likely will fan the flames of immigration conflict this fall by pushing for a vote on some controversial immigration bill before November.

The immigration debate will get more scrutiny this summer when the Supreme Court rules on the Obama administration's challenge to an Arizona immigration law that gives state police expanded authority to challenge the immigration status of individuals they stop. Oral arguments conducted on April 25 suggested that justices are skeptical of the federal government's claims against the Arizona law (see "High opinion").

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