The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Michael Earls
(202) 494-8555

What the Demise of Florida's Anti-Immigration Bill Says About the Politics of Immigration

Marco Rubio Take Note: There’s a Price to Pay for Anti-Immigrant Policies


The news that Florida's state legislature will not advance Arizona-style anti-immigration legislation this year is a welcome development that should puncture several growing myths about the politics of immigration.

For one, the developments in Florida should give pause to Republican strategists seeking to use immigration as a wedge issue and advance the notion that pushing Arizona copycat laws is a smart political strategy for the GOP. State senate president Mike Haridopolous, running for the Republican nomination to U.S. Senate, made a deal with the Tea Party to do what he could to pass an anti-immigration bill in the Sunshine State. After Spanish-language radio advertisements highlighted the role key Hispanic legislators were playing in providing cover to Haridopolous as he rammed through the legislation, Sen. Anitere Flores and House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera came under intense scrutiny. They denounced the legislation, and it finally died.

The zeal of a narrow fringe group of Republican hard-liners proved to be no match for the power of the Hispanic vote in Florida and the state's business community, which was extremely worried about the law's impact on Florida agriculture, tourism, and reputation on the world stage.

The developments in Florida also tested the idea--so popular among anti-immigration restrictionists like Rep. Lamar Smith--that the GOP can court Latino voters with a few tweaks in their overall brand. The theory goes, there is no need to change the Republican Party position on immigration reform, just change the "tone" of the debate, and run a few more Latino candidates. As a report from America's Voice makes clear, adding more Latino Republicans to the GOP ticket is not enough to win Latino voters--the Party really does have to move away from a mass deportation strategy to embrace comprehensive immigration reform. Florida provided a legislative case study of this theory, as the Florida Republican caucus entrusted the anti-immigration legislation to Cuban-American State Senator Anitere Flores, who faced outrage from Hispanic constituents after Spanish-language radio advertisements highlighted her role in the legislative process, as well as descriptions of how the bill would be detrimental to the Hispanic community. Flores smartly distanced herself from the bill and ended up playing a key role in killing it.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America's Voice, "The recent debate in Florida is a watershed for immigration politics. By pandering to their right wing base with this legislation, Florida's Republican Party mobilized opposition from Florida' Hispanic community, leading to the welcome demise of the bill. The debate and its implications also offer a cautionary tale to Florida Senator Marco Rubio, whose own political future remains tied to how well he can reconcile some of his hard right support and anti-immigration policy positions with his background as one of the most prominent Hispanic elected officials in the nation."

Indeed, according to conservative columnist Ruben Navarrette, "Marco Rubio is the Republican Party's Superman. And, the immigration issue, if not handled correctly, is his kryptonite." In 2010 election eve polling from Latino Decisions, Senator Rubio (R-FL) won 62% of the Latino vote (78% of the Cuban vote and 40% of the non-Cuban vote). Some of the support for Rubio was understandable - Florida has a more Republican-leaning Latino electorate than any other state, Florida Cubans were motivated to turnout for their native son, and 2010 was an especially good year for Republican candidates among all demographic groups. However, Rubio's opponents also failed to make his anti-immigration stance a liability, despite the fact that the Florida Latino electorate is staunchly pro-immigrant.

Said Sharry, "The implications of the 2011 Florida battle over state legislation for 2012 are huge. If Marco Rubio is put on the national ticket and he maintains his hard line anti-immigrant policies, such as opposing comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act, he won't get a pass. He will be called out in the same way that Sen. Anitere Flores and House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera were called out. Given the fact that immigration is now the number one issue for Hispanic voters, this will force a choice: he either leads his party to a new, more positive position on immigration or he loses significant support from the very voters he is supposed to attract."

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.