How the GOP Should Talk (and Not Talk) to Latinos About Immigration

When making the case that Republicans have cooked their goose with Latino voters because of how they talk about immigration, it helps to be specific.

I had the chance to do just that recently when I was asked to participate in a panel discussion on immigration at the renowned Lincoln Club of Orange County in Southern California. Panelists were free to discuss whatever facet of the debate we wanted to focus on, and I titled my remarks: “How the GOP Can Talk About Immigration Without Pissing off Latino Voters.”

But first, I explained to the audience why I was even making the effort. I’m not a Republican, I said, but nor am I Democrat. I’m just someone who likes a good, close game and I’m angry, frustrated, and bored with the fact that -- when it comes to winning over Latino voters -- the scoreboard always reads: “Democrats, 100; Republicans, 0.” That’s not good for anyone -- not Democrats, Republicans, or Latinos.

It’s also not good to take this issue lightly, I told them. You can’t continue to alienate 16 percent of the U.S. population -- an estimated 10 million voters representing 8 percent of the U.S. electorate -- and expect to survive for long.

I broke the presentation into two pieces. In the first, I spelled out six things that Republicans are doing wrong when talking about immigration. In the second, I gave them six things they could do right that might help make the GOP brand less toxic among Latinos.

What they’re doing wrong:

1) They approach the issue dishonestly by trying to convince the rest of us that they have no problem with legal immigration, that race and ethnicity don’t have anything to do with the debate, that Americans would gladly do jobs that illegal immigrants are doing, that Mexico is to blame for not providing sufficient opportunities for its own people, and other tall tales;

2) They divide the country by framing the debate in terms of “us” vs. “them” and casting themselves as real Americans who love their country more, and care more about the rule of law, than do their opponents and they invariably place Latinos in the “them” camp, which only helps reinforce the idea that all Latinos are foreigners, outsiders, and interlopers;

3) They pander to racists and nativists, by either using divisive and mean-spirited rhetoric or turning a blind eye to those in the party who do and by perpetuating notions of inferiority where immigrants -- especially those from Mexico -- are dismissed, degraded, and demonized as coming up short when compared to the immigrants of old;

4) They propose simple solutions to what is actually a complicated problem, proving that they haven’t thought deep enough about the issue and forgetting the “bumper sticker rule” which holds that any solution to our immigration woes that fits on a bumper sticker -- i.e., “Deport All Illegals” or “Build A Wall” or “Seal the Border -- probably isn’t going to work;

5) They cast illegal immigrants in negative terms, as spongers and takers and cheats who suck resources out of the economy when the truth is that, without an illegal work force, whole industries like agriculture would dry up and blow away and that illegal immigrants contribute as much as they take or more in terms of taxes and increased economic activity;