An Attack on Some Latinos is an Attack on All Latinos

By Clarissa Martínez-De-Castro, Director, Immigration and Civic Engagement, NCLR 

GOP_elephantAfter losing the Hispanic vote by a whopping 44 points last November, the Republican National Committee (RNC) commissioned an autopsy report to examine what went wrong, a much-needed effort that NCLR applauded. The report noted that “the key problem is that the Republican Party’s message offends too many people unnecessarily” and that “it’s imperative that the RNC changes how to engage with Hispanic communities.” So let’s check in to see how the Republican-led House of Representatives is doing on this important new front in the electoral battle.

Two weeks ago, the House passed an amendment to withhold funding for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides temporary but long-overdue relief to the nation’s “DREAMers,” young people who were brought to the U.S. through no decision of their own and know no other country as home. The amendment was authored by outspoken anti-immigrant Congressman Steve King (R-Iowa) who, among other things, has likened immigrants to breeding dogs.

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Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)

It is hard to imagine a more gratuitous, petty, and mean-spirited amendment. The program was created a year ago and is self-funded by applicant fees. It is a small, commonsense fix for a group of young people with no other options. Not to mention, it is very popular with most Americans and has near unanimous support among Latinos.

In other words, King-style bullying on immigration like this has been soundly rejected by the Hispanic community, yet here he is as the de facto leader on this issue for his colleagues in the House. Last week, King sent out a couple of tweets saying his office had been “invaded by brazen illegal aliens” and chiding Senators McCain and Schumer for not “guarding” him.

The “invasion” was actually a group of about 20 students dressed in caps and gowns—brandishing pieces of paper with their career aspirations printed on them—who went to his office to ask the congressman about his amendment. Yet King could not muster either the courtesy or the decency to explain to these kids why he was so determined to snuff out their dreams.

Instead of being chastened by the odd actions of their colleague and the damage he is doing, a group of other House members are following his lead and passed a bill out of committee that would not only make the reviled SB 1070 the law of the land, but would also throw in some provisions from the notorious Sensenbrenner bill of 2006.

Photo: Office of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
Photo: Office of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

Let’s set aside the myriad policy concerns about resurrecting not one, but two failed policies that have been rejected by everyone from the Supreme Court on down, and simply give these guys a much needed political history lesson. The Sensenbrenner bill, that criminalized being undocumented, which had been and still is a civil offense, prompted the largest peacetime demonstrations this country has seen since the civil rights era. SB 1070 led to boycotts and other protests, and its embrace by Mitt Romney is a big reason why we are not 100 days into the Romney administration right now.

And the anti-immigrant movement, which kicked off with the Sensenbrenner bill in 2006 and reached its zenith with SB 1070 in 2010, helped fuel Latino voter registration and Hispanic voter turnout in in 2012.

For anyone who read the RNC report, this seems like madness. Yet in the minds of many in the Republican Party who have pushed back on the RNC’s assessment, there is a method to their madness. They believe that by leaving the 11 million undocumented in this country in perpetual limbo, they won’t need to worry about the Latino vote. They are dead wrong.  They haven’t just alienated 11 million people who they believe have no power, they have alienated the other 40 million plus Latinos who are U.S. citizens. These are the people who marched in 2006 against the Sensenbrenner bill; these are the people who went to the polls in 2012.

That’s because an attack on some of us is perceived, rightly, as an attack on all of us, something Hispanics have amply demonstrated by their voting choices. The issue isn’t going away. These actions are shaping Latinos coming of age. In fact, there is already a rich pool of Latino citizens not yet registered, and between now and 2028 nearly 900,000 Latino citizens will turn 18 every year. If the House continues on this path, it will alienate these young people permanently. We believe that the Republican Party still has a chance at redemption with our community, but first they must stop treating us like criminals.

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