Opinion Columns & Blogs

The GOP’s Latino nightmare

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has let it be known that he is hard at work on a new version of the Dream Act. The version supported by President Obama and congressional Democrats would provide a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who serve in the military or attend college. But the Democratic version has been widely rejected by Republicans, who continue to embrace ever more extreme rhetoric on immigration, apparently to appeal to the GOP base.

The New York Times editorial board and blogger Steve Benen both noted that Rubio’s version of the measure would give young illegal immigrants legal status but wouldn’t put them on a path to citizenship. As the Times puts it, this amounts to a “Dream Act without the dream.”

The timing is also noteworthy. The Hill reported that another alternative Dream Act measure is being worked on by two GOP senators, Jon Kyl of Arizona and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, and is set to be unveiled, according to Senate sources, just after Mitt Romney clinches the nomination.

Many Republicans agree that their party has a serious Latino problem. The primary process has forced the presidential candidates so far to the right on immigration that some GOP leaders fear Election Day could bring historic losses of Latino voters that could affect down-ticket candidates. A failure by the Republican presidential nominee to make inroads among Latinos could help Obama hold on to Western states such as Colorado and win re-election despite losses in the Rust Belt.

It’s hard not to see the timing of the push for an alternative Dream Act in this context.

But this ultimately shows that the framing of the GOP’s “Latino problem” is all wrong. The problem isn’t a cosmetic issue that can be fixed with the right kind of outreach. The real problem appears to be that Republicans don’t adopt positions that would appeal to Latinos or would genuinely be in their interests, presumably because candidates don’t think the conservative base will let them.

It seems that the GOP’s problem is underscored, not fixed, when the only version of the Dream Act that congressional Republicans can bring themselves to support is one that doesn’t offer a path to citizenship to young immigrants in America who go to college or serve in the armed forces.