New Report Asks: Why Do Elephants Put Their Heads in the Sand?

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Pili Tobar (202) 463-8602 ext. 308

New Report Asks: Why Do Elephants Put Their Heads in the Sand?

America’s Voice Examines State of GOP Presidential Field on Immigration & Latino Outreach

WASHINGTON - As the Republican race for the party’s presidential nomination begins and the 2012 cycle kicks off in earnest, the GOP’s stance on immigration and its related ability to compete for Latino voters will be major storylines.  In a report released today, Why Do Elephants Put their Heads in the Sand?, America’s Voice examines the GOP presidential candidate positions on immigration, finding that the field tilts hard in the anti-immigrant direction.  The report supplements the candidate profiles with analysis of the Party’s lurch to the right on immigration in recent years, and provides four lessons for the Republican Party when it comes to Latino voters, immigration, and its potential significance for 2012 and beyond.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “The Republican Party seems unlikely and unwilling to deviate from its hard-line, deportation-only positioning in the 2012 cycle.  Despite demographic trends and recent election cycles making compelling arguments for reform, the GOP seems unlikely and unwilling to change its ways.  Not only is this horrible from a policy perspective, but politically, it’s downright dangerous for the GOP.”

While some candidates within the GOP field, such as former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, and leaders like Jeb Bush have maintained more moderate stances on immigration, the majority of the GOP presidential field, Republicans in Congress, and Party leaders appear to be firmly in the mass-deportation camp. This places the GOP at odds with the political reality of what most Americans – and the vast majority of Latinos – want for a policy outcome.  Among the notable candidate profiles include:

  • Mitt Romney:  Given his rhetoric both supportive and opposed to comprehensive immigration reform, Romney has rightfully been labeled a flip-flopper on the issue.
  • Tim Pawlenty:  While he once described comprehensive immigration reform as “reasonable” back in 2008, he is now attacking Obama for “breaking his promise” on immigration enforcement and has recently sharpened his rhetoric on the issue.
  • Jon Huntsman:  While he was governor of Utah, Jon Huntsman worked with then-Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano to craft a resolution for the Western Governors’ Association that supported comprehensive reform. His record as governor balances expanded enforcement to crack down on employers with support for in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students.

Among the findings and advice relevant to Republican candidates and Party strategists include four key lessons:

  • Lesson #1: A Demographic Imperative:  At the same time the Republican Party has moved to the right on immigration, the demographics of the nation have changed rapidly.  Yet the Party has, if anything, moved in a direction less hospitable to the new voting populations.
  • Lesson #2: Yes, Latino Voters Care About Immigration:  Despite assertions to the contrary from leading anti-immigrant lawmaker Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and anti-immigration “think tanks” like the Center for Immigration Studies, Latino voters see immigration as a top priority because it is an issue that affects their families, their future and their sense of being fully accepted in America. 
  • Lesson #3: The Failure of the GOP Anti-Immigration Wedge Strategy – Again, and Again, and Again:  It is often said that the only poll that really matters is the one that happens on Election Day: the actual vote.  Latino voters and Republican demagoguery on the immigration issue were a factor in the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006; President Obama’s victory and congressional Democrats’ success in 2008; and in keeping the Senate in Democratic hands in 2010.
  • Lesson #4: Non-Latinos – Even Republicans – Want Immigration Solutions:  May 2011 polling from Pew Research Center found overwhelming 72%-24% support for a path to legal citizenship for undocumented immigrants, “provided they pass background checks, pay fines and have jobs.”  Support for citizenship was at least 58% among seven of the eight subgroups, while the “staunch conservatives” subgroup split 49%-49% on the topic.  By embracing the hard line stance embodied and supported by just a small portion of the electorate, Republicans are ceding to Democrats the opportunity to appeal to the majority of voters on this issue – both Latinos who view the issue through a personal lens and swing voters who want solutions on the issue and view the Republicans as extreme and impractical. 

To access a copy of the new America’s Voice report, visit: Http://www.americasvoiceonline.org/HeadsInTheSand

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America's Voice -- Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform. The mission of America’s Voice is to realize the promise of workable and humane comprehensive immigration reform. Our goal is to build the public support and create the political momentum for reforms that will transform a dysfunctional immigration system that does not work into a regulatory system that does.

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