Much has been said in the wake of this year's election about the depth of the problem Republicans face with Latino voters. As the Hispanic electorate is expected to double by 2030, political professionals on the left and right tend to agree that the GOP's future is bleak without Latino voter support.
While immigration is not the only issue that is important to Latino voters, it is the single most unifying political issue in the Latino community. As Republicans continue to toe the waters of what has been one of the most angry and divisive debates in American politics, below are three ways the GOP can lead on immigration reform.
1. Embrace ‘Amnesty’
Republicans already own the term ‘amnesty’, but for all the wrong reasons with current and future Latino voters. During the GOP’s dramatic uprising against immigration reform in 2010, ‘amnesty’ became such a poisonous political term that the language of the debate quickly shifted from ‘amnesty’ to ‘path to citizenship’; then ‘earned citizenship’; and finally, as hope for reform dwindled on Capitol Hill, ‘back of the line citizenship.’
This time the GOP should embrace amnesty, both as an endearing political term and essential public policy agenda. Ronald Reagan was not afraid to call a path to citizenship ‘amnesty’.
“I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots here,” he told the American people during the 1984 presidential race. Two years later, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act and 3 million unauthorized immigrants received an amnesty.
2. Amplify Christian Messaging
It is unsurprising that over 150 prominent Evangelical leaders recently published an open letter calling for the White House and Capitol Hill to support a path to citizenship for America’s undocumented immigrant population. A 2007 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life showed that 15% of the booming Latino population self-identified as evangelicals. The survey also found that “among eligible Latino voters, evangelicals are twice as likely as Latino Catholics to identify with the Republican Party.” The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also supports “earned citizenship” for undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
Few organizations have the political clout and media reach wielded by America’s Christian churches. This is especially true of the influence of Christian messaging via local radio and television. The GOP should collaborate with Evangelical and Catholic networks to amplify Christian, pro-immigrant messaging beyond local broadcast media and into the national debate. Jesus Christ was an immigrant. Millions of current and future Latino voters and Latino families are immigrants, too.
3. Be Fully Bilingual
Unilingual advocacy in Spanish or English will not suffice to demonstrate to Latino voters that the Republican Party understands and cares about immigration reform. To avoid appearing out of touch with Latinos as the drive toward immigration reform continues in Washington and across the country, all of the GOP’s immigration messaging should be made available in Spanish and English. Relevant social media, websites, surrogates, and so on, should be bilingual.
The GOP should also immediately work to build sincere, enduring relationships with Latino media in English and Spanish. This is especially true of the Republican Party’s relationship with Univision, as the Spanish-language broadcast giant continues to grow in key stateside media markets where English-language competitors have seen ratings decline.
Finally, any path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants should require that successful applicants demonstrate English-language proficiency. However, millions of undocumented immigrants still live in Spanish-language shadows. They will become eligible to vote if Congress passes the comprehensive immigration reform bill that fairness requires and Latino voters demand from Republicans and Democrats. The GOP should speak to them directly in both languages of immigration reform. This will demonstrate to current and future Latino voters that the GOP is still a party of Karl Rove’s multicultural political aptitude and Ronald Reagan’s conservative compassion.