By Valeria Fernández, New America Media
PHOENIX, AZ—In November, Latino Republicans in Arizona will be faced with a dilemma: Vote for the GOP, which has led attacks on their community, or vote against their party.
The choice they make may come down to their position on one subject: SB 1070. The controversial law, which made it a state crime to be undocumented, emerged as the major issue dividing Republican voters at Wednesday’s Latino Voter Town Hall hosted by Radio Bilingue.
Latino Republicans who oppose SB 1070 are worried that the law will have long-lasting effects by driving voters away from their party.
“For generations, no Latino will vote for the Republican Party,” said José Peñalosa, an immigration attorney and a member of the group Somos Republicans. In fact, a recent poll by the Pew Hispanic Center found that many Latinos aren’t planning to vote at all on Election Day. But in Arizona, Latinos are anything but apathetic about the November elections, especially when the conversation turns to SB 1070.
“This law is wrong and the Republican Party is making a mistake,” Peñalosa said.
Most Latinos oppose SB 1070, regardless of their political affiliation.
A recent CNN poll found that 71 percent of Latinos are against the law. Earlier this year, in a poll by LatinoMetrics, eight out of 10 Latinos voiced their disapproval.
Whether that opposition will translate into votes for the Democratic Party in Arizona’s hotly contested gubernatorial race remains to be seen.
One of the most controversial candidates up for re-election is Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed SB 1070 into law. A new Rocky Mountain poll shows that Democrat Terry Goddard is only 3 percentage points behind Brewer.
Peñalosa believes the immigration law is to blame for Brewer losing ground.
“They [the GOP] turned a blind eye to Latinos,” Dee Dee Blase, founder of Somos Republicans, agreed. “We won’t reward them if they ignore our issues.”
But unlike other Republicans who oppose SB 1070, Blase said she would not give her vote to Democrats.
Some Latino Republicans, however, do support the state’s new immigration law.
Reymundo Torres, a member of the Arizona Latino Republican Association, said he plans to vote for Brewer in November.
Torres said SB 1070 was a necessary step for the state at a time when the federal government was not doing its job to enforce its own immigration laws. Although statistics show that crime in the state has been steadily decreasing, he said he is afraid that violence in Mexico could spill over into Arizona.
Elías Bermudez, a business owner and member of Somos Republicans, said people like Torres represent a minority that is harming the larger Republican Party. Many Latinos naturally identify with the GOP, he explained, because they share many of the party's values when it comes to family.
Jesse Hernández, chairman of the Arizona Latino Republican Association, noted that it is important to recognize the diversity of opinions among Latino voters. For example, the protests that painted SB 1070 as a bill targeting Latinos based on race, he said, actually spurred conservative Hispanics to turn out to vote for candidates like Brewer. Still, he said, most Republicans agree on key issues, such as discontent toward the Obama administration.
Republican José Torrez, a pastor who opposes SB 1070, said he was disappointed with the Obama administration because it hasn't fulfilled its promise for immigration reform and because of what he called its “socialistic” approach toward government.
“I haven’t made a decision of how I’ll vote yet,” he said. But, he added, “I think it’s probable that the governor will lose this race because of SB 1070.”
The economy is one of the key factors that will drive Latinos of both parties this November. But even when discussing the recession, most Latino voters circled back to SB 1070.
Arizona’s new immigration law has been extremely negative for the economy, according to Republican business owner Javier Zuluaga. “Arizona should focus on generating jobs and not losing them,“ he said.
But Zuluaga said he would favor Republican candidates who support lowering taxes and stimulating business.
Miguel Singuenza, the owner of a car dealership, said he has lost more than 40 percent of his clientele as people have fled the state because of SB 1070 and crackdowns by Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Singuenza, who is registered as a Democrat, said he’s grown tired of marching and protesting against draconian immigration laws. The only way to bring about change, he believes, is through the ballot box.
At this point, he says, he is not looking so much at a particular party, but at candidates who care about Latino issues.