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GOP’s Immigration Reform Ploy Won’t Sway Hispanics

Posted: Nov 21, 2012

GOP leaders don’t try to hide that their sudden pile on the immigration reform bandwagon is a politically panic-driven attempt to bag a few more Latino votes in future elections. The ploy won’t work, and a few of the more thoughtful heads in the GOP know it. The reason has nothing to do with the fact that many see their sudden pirouette on the party’s age-old hostility to immigration reform as pure political opportunism. It has nothing to do with the notion that the party’s embrace of immigration reform was not the driving force behind the solid support of President Obama by Hispanic voters that helped tip several crucial swing states to him and the White House. It has nothing to do with GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney’s crack that Obama won the election because he gave away “gifts” to minorities, one of which he said was Obama’s backing of the DREAM Act.

The majority of Hispanic voters are wedded to the Democratic Party for the same reason that African-Americans, the poor, and for most of the country’s recent political history, rank-and-file white blue-collar workers have been Democratic Party stalwarts. They perceive that the Democrats will protect and fight for their economic interests. Hispanics closely parallel African Americans in that they suffer the same gaping disparities in income, health care, and education in comparison to whites. They are more likely to live in poor, segregated, urban communities, and their children attend segregated, grossly underserved public schools.

Government has always been viewed as their backstop to protect their interests. In exit polls following the 2008 presidential election, voters were asked whether they thought government or private business did the best at solving the country’s pressing economic problems. The overwhelming majority of Hispanics gave the government the nod. Fewer than half of white respondents said the government was the better choice.

Three years later nothing had changed. A Pew survey of Hispanic voters found that Hispanic respondents overwhelmingly said that a big, expansive government was the best guarantee to provide vital services and protect their economic interests. They even agreed that taxes should be raised if that’s what it took to insure no cuts or elimination of those services. In 2011, Reuters cobbled together several poll results on the question of government’s role. It found that Hispanics backed Obama’s plan to raise taxes on the wealthy, supported his measures to strengthen Social Security, and to spend more on education programs by overwhelming margins. Hispanics were just as fervent in their support of the Affordable Care Act.

In years past the GOP might have had a shot at attracting more Hispanic voters by skillfully exploiting the wedge issues of abortion, gay marriage and traditional family values. Many Hispanics, devoutly Catholic, and increasingly evangelical, would have hued close to the GOP’s line on these issues. But that too has changed. The traditional grip that the Catholic Church has had on Hispanics on the social issues has loosened. The Pew survey found that a majority of Hispanics now back gay marriage, abortion, and more than half were single parents. In 2012 exit polls, Hispanics supported Obama’s position that “health insurance organizations should be required to cover contraceptives” by a huge margin. This was in direct defiance of the position of the Catholic Bishops who virtually declared war on Obama on the issue.

Even for the brief moment that the GOP seemed to get it right on immigration reform, the party still couldn’t shake its ingrained, nativist xenophobia, on what American citizenship should be about -- and that didn’t include any relent on its opposition to a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented. Then President George W. Bush was widely and unfairly blamed for making a mess of the immigration reform fight in Congress by not pushing hard enough for passage of the bill. Immigrant rights groups lambasted Republican senators for dumping crippling demands for tight border security provisions on the bill. Leading Republican presidential contenders that year didn't help matters by flatly opposing the bill as much too soft on border enforcement.

This did much to kill whatever flickering hope there was for the bill's passage. This undid the inroads that Bush made in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections when he scored gains with Latino voters. A big part of that was due to the perception (and reality) that Bush would push hard for immigration reform.

Immigration then was not just about fixing America’s alleged broken borders but a crass, naked political move to grab more Latino votes for Bush. It worked, but only briefly. It quickly crashed against the hard reality that GOP is the guardian of the economic interests of the corporate rich, and that the party depends on older white conservative males to win elections. This leaves most Hispanics out in the political cold. The GOP’s immigration reform ploy won’t change that.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent political commentator on MSNBC and a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson

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