Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is Only Half-Right About Latinos and Immigration

In a recent interview with Newsmax magazine, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen stated

“The Republican party is the party of small government, less government intrusion, small businesses, more economic freedom, and that goes to the heart of what the Hispanic community is all about,” the Florida legislator said.

“The growth in Hispanic small businesses in the United States is phenomenal and it’s because we’re seeing the opportunities exist,” she added. “The party needs to tailor its message, we don’t have to change our principles, but just be unafraid to appeal to the Hispanic voter.

“We tend to think that the Hispanic voter is all about immigration and if you’re not for amnesty, if you’re not for a comprehensive immigration reform, you won’t get the Hispanic vote. That is not true at all.

“Hispanics are pro-business, they’re very much pro-family and pro-community and they’re for safe schools and against drugs – all great American values. We should appeal to those voters all the time.

“Hispanics are a natural for the Republican party.”

She’s half right about issues of importance to Latinos…right about jobs and economy, but wrong about immigration. A recent Univisión/Latino Decisions poll found that the #1 issue for Latinos is indeed jobs and the economy (54%), but a close second is immigration reform (46%). Of those who agree with a candidate’s viewpoints on jobs and the economy, 59% of Latinos were less likely to support the candidate if he made anti-immigrant remarks. Not only are Latinos alienated by anti-immigrant rhetoric, but so are 41% of all voters!

Additionally, according to a new study published today by PEW Research,

Among all Latinos, 86% support a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, with these conditions. And among all Americans, 72% support a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants with these conditions.

We believe that the Republican Party can indeed make serious inroads with Latino voters due to Obama’s disastrous economic policies and failure to honor repeated campaign promises to address immigration reform, while dramatically stepping up immigration enforcement and deportations.

However, these in-roads are at risk due to the rhetoric in recent years from some GOP politicians. Among Latinos, the Univision/Latino Decisions poll found that the GOP is perceived as “hostile” by 30% of Latinos. 38% of Latinos in the U.S. are foreign-born, and a large majority of those born here have parents, grandparents, or close friends who are immigrants, and so immigration reform is intensely personal to Latinos.

We welcomed Newt Gingrich’s centrist position on immigration reform; not amnesty but not mass deportations either. Immigration reform needs a sober, pragmatic approach, recognizing that the root cause of our nation’s immigration problems lie in a legal immigration system disconnected from economic reality. As with any complex problem, the best solutions address root causes, not symptoms. The present climate of ‘enforcement on steroids’ is not a solution, and only harms American businesses and especially immigrants, whose families are being ripped apart in increasing numbers.

Candidates who have adopted a hard line enforcement-only stance will surely alienate Latino voters. Moreover, the same Univisión/Latno Decisions poll found across-the-board that voters perceive “enforcement-first” is an excuse for “blocking progress.” Many candidates across the nation seem to be ducking the issue, perhaps out of fear of a shrill minority of Americans who are vehemently opposed to immigration reform. However, a ‘deport them all’ solution to illegal immigration is simply not practical and would wreck our already fragile economy. It’s time for both candidates and elected officials to show courage and bring realistic solutions to the table.

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