What’s the solution to the GOP’s election-year problems with Latino voters over immigration policy?
Recently, I watched several interviews with Senator John McCain on Univision, CNN, and Fox News Latino. The interviews put many things in perspective, particularly those regarding the Hispanic vote. McCain, who ran as the Republican presidential candidate against Barack Obama in 2008, is a longtime GOP leader on immigration reform. Many consider him a strong leader, a fervid patriot, and a man of many experiences. However, he isn't the most popular guy among Latino voters.
McCain has represented Arizona in the U.S. Senate for 25 years. With an estimated 1.7 Million Latinos, 30 percent of the Grand Canyon State is Latino, making it the fifth largest Latino population in the country. McCain’s past success with Latino voters makes him a Republican elder statesman and guide when it comes to talking about immigration and winning Latino votes. He hasn't quite reached the Latino population's favoritism, particularly among the undocumented group.
Sen. McCain wants Republicans to stop being defensive and turn the tables on Democrats who have not been supporters of immigration reform. Four years after his failed presidential bid, the Arizona senator believes it’s time to shift the blame for years of federal failure to implement immigration reform to Democrats in Congress, and specifically President Obama.
He has a point.
McCain has credibility on the issue from years of fighting for immigration reform. He took a big risk in joining President Bush and the late Senator Ted Kennedy to make a major effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2005.
The bi-partisan bill never got out of committee. Much of the blame was put on conservative talk radio opposition to “amnesty” for people who broke the law. These people, mostly those who've been coming here illegally from Mexico, El Salvador, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Bosnia, and Poland, are criminals in the eyes of many.
In 2007 a Democratic bill in the Senate could not get the 60 votes needed to end debate and force a vote.
There has been no progress made in Congress since then.
In both 2005 and 2007 the hard-right did make it extremely difficult for the GOP to develop a cohesive, unified message on immigration reform. Even modest reform proposals got labeled by some Republicans as “amnesty.” An amnesty is not a solution to our problems with illegal immigrants, who are multiplying since Obama became in favor of the DREAMers and their goal to take over the American education system (and society for that matter).
In Fox's interview, McCain reminded viewers that that groups on the left, notable the Farm Workers of America, and trade unions with strong ties to the Democrats also opposed to his guest worker program.
“The greatness of Ted Kennedy, as you know, was that he was willing—he and I agreed to vote against amendments that we otherwise might support. And I saw him speak rather sternly to then-Senator Obama, when Senator Obama proposed the amendment to quote, sunset, in other words, end the guest worker program.”
In Univision's interview with McCain last February, Jorge Ramos asked the Arizona Senator, who endorsed Mitt Romney in January and has made campaign stops on behalf of the former Massachusetts governor, if he agreed with the Republican presidential candidate's immigration policy. McCain stated that he is "not the first Republican to distance himself" from Romney's immigration comments.
McCain mentioned that even though the media focus remains on right-wing opposition to guest worker programs and overall immigration reform there is little reason to think that opposition from the left is any less an obstacle than it was in 2005. I've met some liberal Democrats who detest the DREAMers and their cause but are very much in favor of women's rights and LGBT marriage. This just shows you can't always have it all.
But of all of the topics touched on, one drew a visceral response from McCain. Hispanic congressional leaders, such as Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, describe McCain as a partner who in recent years “left the table” of negotiations over immigration reform. And Gutierrez blames Republicans for exploiting the immigration issue to create fear and fan anti-immigrant fervor. Gutierrez, who many believe to be Mexican, is actually an American of Puerto Rican heritage. Despite his background, his actions very much reflect the current Democratic party: too much talk and not enough action. Chicago, the windy city, deserves someone with so much wind in his system.
When the interviewer asked him, “Are people right to criticize you as having abandoned the immigrant [and], immigrant community?”
McCain was literally taken aback. He said “Well I hope not. But, I do also understand that there have been increases in border security.”
To win the support of Latinos, McCain speaks about “humane treatment” of the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. And then he highlights three aspects of the immigration debate that he feels are ignored by Democrats but devastating to the Latino community: illegal drugs, drug violence, and human trafficking.
He said “There are a hundred guides sitting on mountaintops right now in Arizona, guiding the drug cartels as they bring the drugs across the Arizona/Mexico border." While the majority of these drugs end up in the hands of upper-middle class white youth in suburban America, the man has a point.
“The human rights abuses,” Sen. McCain said, is the part of the illegal immigration problem that the Obama White House and the liberals do not understand. By embracing illegal immigration and the DREAMers, we are encouraging more young women to be victims of human rights violations: this is very, very wrong. This doesn't even consider the undocumented men and women without driver’s licenses traveling on roads in the state who pose a danger to all motorists.
Arizona’s controversial S.B. 1070 law is not popular with Latinos. But McCain praises the law and Governor Jan Brewer for her commitment to border security. He also eagerly awaits Marco Rubio’s Republican draft of an alternative to the DREAM Act. Rubio, one of the few Latino politicians I admire, is a household name that will save the Latino population. Not only is he articulate and knowledgeable about the issues of the times, he is also a strong figure that can take a factual side on many arguments, including immigration, which is often difficult for many current political leaders.
Sen. McCain said Republicans will not lose Latino support by talking about the need for border security as a necessary precedent to any immigration reform. Despite a sharp decline in illegal crossings from Mexico into the U.S. and increases border security under President Obama he said all Americans want to know that the borders are protected. I would add that the Mexico-U.S. border isn't our only concern: immigrant hot spots like California and New York also attract thousands of illegals from Asia and Europe, which pose a threat to America's safety.
McCain agrees that if Mitt Romney is to defeat Barack Obama in the presidential election he will have to have shift the perception that his immigration policies are harsh, including his support for “self-deportation", and his opposition to the DREAM Act (the proposed legislation offering citizenship to undocumented people brought to the U.S. as children and now in school or the military).
A Pew Research poll last month found that Hispanic voters favor President Obama over Romney by 40 points: 67 percent to 27 percent. McCain lost Latino voters to Obama in 2008 by just 13 points.
McCain’s strategy, to force Democrats and liberals to take responsibility for the failure of immigration reform and the rise of illegal immigrants, has a big hill to climb with Latinos. But it may be the best hope for Mitt Romney and his fellow Republicans.
I hope to see much more from Marco Rubio in the coming months. If he ran for president one day, he would get mi voto.