Thanks to the impact of social media, the anti-immigrant
comments made in Arizona will “not be said in a vacuum,” says
Frank Sherry, executive director of America’s Voice. He
believes that is an important lesson for Latinos across the
country to remember in November’s general election.
As the conference pointed out, the names of the politicians who
are endorsing the candidates as well as those the candidates
have embraced are further clues to how far to the right the
candidates are willing to go on the issue of immigration.
On February 8, in an event not widely reported by mainstream
media, GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney proudly announced his
candidacy had received the endorsement of former
California governor and Senator Pete Wilson.
No, your memory isn’t playing tricks on you. That’s the same
Pete Wilson who rode to reelection in 1994 on the back of the
draconian Proposition 187, the grandfather of all the
subsequent anti-immigration laws passed this decade in Arizona,
Alabama and other states.
Although Pete Wilson won the battle, the GOP lost the war.
Conference participant Gary Segura is a professor
at California’s Stanford University and the principal of
Latino Decisions, the polling organization. During the call,
he told reporters that Wilson’s backing of Proposition 187 is
widely credited with pushing Latino voters away from the GOP.
This resulted in tilting the political balance to make what was
formerly a swing state into one that is today almost solidly
Although Proposition 187, which pandered to the worst fears of
uninformed voters by targeting the state’s undocumented
immigrants, was eventually struck down by the courts, the damage
to the GOP was its legacy. By maintaining that Latinos were
irrelevant to California, it reversed a then-slow but steady
trend of Latinos supporting the GOP.
Governor Susana Martínez (New Mexico) and former Governor
Jeb Bush (Florida) have recognized this shift and has
warned the GOP to tone down its anti-immigrant rhetoric. Bush is
married to a Latina.
“Immigration is inseparable from the Latino vote,” said Segura,
noting that 87 percent of Latinos in California at the time of
Proposition 187 were within two generations of the immigrant
experience – their parents or grandparents were born outside of
the United States. A majority knew someone who was undocumented,
and many of those knew someone who had been subjected to
immigration proceedings. But more importantly, many Latinos had
themselves been swept up in enforcement policies such as
“Those attacks mobilized the Latino electorate,” said Segura.
After Proposition 187 was declared unconstitutional, fear and
hopelessness was replaced with a massive mobilization. As
Eliseo Medina, International Secretary-Treasurer of the
Service Employees International Union (SEIU), pointed out, “In
the first four years after Proposition 187, the growth of the
Latino vote outpaced the general population five to one. In
1994, Latinos comprised eight percent of the voters, today it is
19 percent and growing. There were 1.1 million new registered
voters in the 1990s, and one million of them were Latinos.”
That was enough to change the complexion of California’s
government. Today, all of the state’s top elected officials are
Democrats, and Democrats control the state legislature.
“Pete Wilson is a hero of the Latino community,” said Segura.
“He contributed to registering more Latino voters then anyone in
American history. And one wonders why Romney would seek the
endorsement of someone who hasn’t held office for 14 years and
who is toxic to Latino voters. Romney is either getting bad
advice or giving up on the Latino vote.”
Medina echoed Segura’s statement and added that in his “46 years
as an organizer, Pete Wilson is the best organizer of Latino
voters ever seen in terms of Latinos becoming citizens,
registering to vote, and turning out on election day.
“The Latino vote can make the difference between winning and
losing in states where Latinos have a considerable presence such
as Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and New Mexico, states
where the Latino vote is growing faster than the general public.
Soon more states will start to look like California.
“Romney must have flunked history in school because he hasn’t
learned the lessons. To win, you need to attract voters to you,
not drive them away, said Medina, adding “To paraphrase another
recent California governor, Hasta la Vista, Mitt.”
It should also be noted that Romney has repeatedly stated on his
Campaign Trail that he would veto any DREAM Act.
Other speakers such as David Damore, a political science
professor at the University of Las Vegas, and Robert Preuhs,
a political science professor at Metropolitan State College of
However, Romney hasn’t stopped with Pete Wilson. He has also
embraced Texas congressman Lamar Smith and Kris Kobach,
two other leading anti-immigrant movement luminaries. The
Southern Poverty Law Center has identified Kobach, the Kansas
Secretary of State, as the man behind the scenes of the new
state anti-immigrant laws.
Alas, Romney isn’t alone. In response to a question from La
Prensa, Latinos now know that former congressman Tom
Tancredo, an architect of anti-immigration sentiment,
threw his support behind Rick Santorum, the winner of the
February Colorado GOP primary.
So who can we expect disgraced Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio
to endorse now that his first choice, Texas Governor Rick
Perry is out of the race?
A key element in this story is the demographic change in the
United States. As professor Segura concluded, “The white share
of the electorate has declined to 70 percent now from the
mid-80s. There has been a drain of white voters out of the
system as compared to Latino and Asian-American groups.” And
this has the potential of tipping the electorate.
Although Latino voters did not play a key role in the primaries
in states like Colorado, November will surely be different.
There’s another message here for the GOP. Adding a Hispanic name
like that of Cuban-born U.S. Senator from Florida Mario Rubio
to the GOP ticket as the vice president candidate won’t fool
Romney and the GOP might consider paying a little more attention
to the axiom of Spanish-born philosopher George Santayana (Jorge
Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás):
Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.