Republicans try for redemption with Latinos

The Republican Party has to change its talk and its walk if it wants to stand a chance at earning the key Latino vote in future elections.

The GOP campaign rhetoric was especially alienating to the more than 70 percent of Latinos who voted for Obama. All the anti-immigrant talk and the hostility toward young Latinos who came here with their parents persuaded a huge majority to side with the Democrats.

Republicans had an opportunity because President Obama has deported immigrants at a record pace. But Mitt Romney’s assertion that immigrants without proper papers should “self-deport” and his refusal to endorse the DREAM Act propelled Latinos into Obama’s arms.

Romney and the Republicans proved they were out of touch with a growing demographic that increased its share in the electorate from 6 percent to 10 percent in just 12 years.

And on the immigration issue, the Republican Party is way out of step not only with Latinos but also with a majority of Americans. Sixty-five percent of the people surveyed in an exit poll on Nov. 6 supported a pathway to citizenship.

Some Republicans are wising up.

“We have nobody to blame but ourselves when it comes to losing Hispanics,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., vowing, “We can get them back with some effort on our part.”

House Speaker John Boehner admitted that the U.S. immigration system is broken and expressed hope that the two parties could find some common ground.

Even conservative pundit Sean Hannity announced his support for immigration reform that would include a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants.

If this talk is real, than the Democratic Party will be punished if it fails to enact genuine immigration reform and if it keeps breaking up so many Latino families. But if the GOP only softens its rhetoric on immigration and nothing else, than it really misses the point because Latinos care about more than just immigration.

Latinos have the highest dropout rates and the highest percentage of uninsured of any demographic group in America, and their unemployment rate is almost as high as that of blacks. Education, health insurance and jobs are also important issues to Latinos.

Latinas have the highest gender wage gap, 54 cents to every dollar earned by a white male. And studies have shown that Latinos are tolerant of a woman’s right to choose and feel that right should be protected.

They also care about foreign policy, especially regarding their countries of origin, but also because many of their sons and daughters have gone to far off places as part of our armed services.

If the GOP wants to have a fighting chance in the next presidential election, it needs to get beyond tokenizing. Republicans can’t just repackage a Marco Rubio as the kinder and browner version of itself.

The GOP needs to open the door to its big tent — and let some people out in order to make room for some fresh air and ideas.

Maegan E. Ortiz is a freelance writer and publisher of www.vivirlatino.com. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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