by Robert Marcus, Associated Baptist Press
WASHINGTON -- Leaders of the nation’s largest Hispanic evangelical organization warned leaders of the Republican Party that their increasingly strident rhetoric on immigration puts the party at risk of losing an entire generation of Latino voters.
“We are very disappointed with the rhetoric stemming from the Republican Party,” said Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference,. “The recent Republican consideration on amending the Constitution to deny citizenship to children of immigrants born in the U.S. may very well serve as the nail on the coffin to the inevitable alienation of America’s largest ethnic minority.”
Rodriguez referred to proposals -- endorsed in theory by several prominent Republicans in recent weeks -- dealing with the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of “birthright citizenship” for any child born in the United States. Some GOP members of Congress, governors and others have suggested amending or clarifying the bill to exclude children born to certain immigrants.
Rodriguez said other recent legislative actions endorsed by many GOP leaders -- such as Arizona’s controversial new anti-illegal-immigration law -- send “a very clear message to Latinos: The party that seems to reflect the values of the Hispanic-American family is no longer the party of Reagan and Lincoln but now stands as the party responsible for polarizing communities, accepting racial profiling and building walls not in the desert of Arizona but unfortunately through Main Street U.S.A.”
As recently as 2004, Republicans enjoyed a broad level of support among Latinos. In 2004, polls showed that around 44 percent of Hispanic voters supported President George W. Bush’s re-election. But a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that Hispanic support for the party had slipped to around 20 percent.
While anti-illegal-immigration sentiment has polled well among the broader electorate in recent months, Rodriguez said, using it as a vote-getting strategy is short-sighted as Latinos’ share of the electorate grows.
“By standing today as the staunchest opponents to immigration reform, the GOP sacrifices long-term viability on the altar of short-term expediency,” he said. “It is difficult for the Republicans to advocate for family values and simultaneously advocate deporting families. It’s irreconcilable biblically or morally.”
He called for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that offers a path to legal residency for many of those already in the country illegally, although most congressional observers believe the prospects for such a bill passing in this election year are close to nil.
That hasn’t stopped a broad array of other Christian leaders -- Hispanic and otherwise -- from pushing Congress to do so. Many white evangelical leaders closely aligned with the Republican Party -- such as Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission -- have called on Congress to pass similar immigration reform this year.
Land recently told National Public Radio that some prominent conservatives have taken him to task for his support of an immigration-reform bill that would include border security and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
“I’ve had some of them appeal to me,” Land said. “They say, ‘Richard, you’re going to divide the conservative coalition.’ And I said, ‘Well, I may divide the old conservative coalition, but I’m not going to divide the new one.’”
“If the new conservative coalition is going to be a governing coalition, it’s going to have to have a significant number of Hispanics in it,” Land added. “That’s dictated by demographics, and you don’t get large numbers of Hispanics to support you when you’re engaged in anti-Hispanic immigration rhetoric.”
Robert Marus is managing editor and Washington bureau chief for Associated Baptist Press.