Coalition Leader: GOP Needs to Articulate Its Message to Latino Entrepreneurs

The estimated 3.2 million Hispanic-owned businesses in the U.S. generate nearly $500 billion in economic activity every year, according to the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC).

His father, Hector Barreto, Sr., founded the chamber in 1979. Today, the USHCC has 200 local chambers and business associations.

Despite the heated debate about immigration reform, the issue is not a priority for Latinos. According to the Pew Research Center, the Hispanic community ranks several issues higher than immigration reform. In 2013, 57 percent of Hispanic registered voters called education an “extremely important” issue facing the nation. Issues like jobs, the economy, and healthcare also came ahead of immigration.

Some Latino leaders say they believe that immigration reform is crowding out other issues facing the Latino community. In a recent commentary, Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, wondered whether the continued debate has become a distraction from the needs of the much larger pool of Hispanics who are citizens.

The Pew Research Center's Hispanic Trends Project estimates that there are 11.7 undocumented migrants in the United States. By comparison, the overall U.S. Hispanic population is 53 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Politically, the immigration issue is presented as the silver bullet to the heart of the Latino vote. ... The fact that immigration never seems to emerge as the only or even most important issue prioritized by Latinos in poll after poll doesn’t seem to matter; how other issues will influence the Latino vote is not really seriously being discussed,” Falcon wrote.

The unemployment rate among Hispanics peaked at 12.3 percent in 2010, compared with 8.9 percent among non-Hispanics. Joblessness has steadily fallen to 8.9 percent, but remains above its pre-recession level of 4.9 percent.

Barreto says the U.S. will have 12 million Hispanic-owned businesses within 10 years. These votes are going to be “up for grabs” and an agenda focused on growing the economy will be vital for attracting Hispanic voters.

He says the Republican Party’s core beliefs of lower taxes and small government resonate with Latinos. But in order to win the Hispanic vote, the GOP needs to start offering solutions to everyday problems in the Hispanic community.

“You have to have something to beat something. You can’t just be against something,” he said. “We have a good message, we just need to articulate it and we need some policy prescriptions.”