News / USA

Immigration Divides Republican Party Hispanics

Judy Schulz, center, cheers as her husband Richard Schulz, left, both of Glendale, Ariz., joined hundreds supporting Arizona's new law on illegal immigration as they listen to speakers near the capital in Phoenix. The law was later largely blocked by a fe
Judy Schulz, center, cheers as her husband Richard Schulz, left, both of Glendale, Ariz., joined hundreds supporting Arizona's new law on illegal immigration as they listen to speakers near the capital in Phoenix. The law was later largely blocked by a fe
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Earlier this year, the Republican Party dominated legislature in the state of Arizona passed a controversial law calling for police to question the immigration status of anyone they encounter while on duty who presents what is described as  a "reasonable suspicion."  

The law was signed by Republican Governor Jan Brewer, but largely blocked in July by a federal judge. Most Hispanics are offended by the law, arousing fears in the Republican Party of the loss of key support in the years ahead.

What is SB 1070?

Recently, however, the majority of illegal immigrants entering Arizona have come from Latin America, with Mexico accounting for more than 60 percent.  Since many Hispanics in Arizona have roots in Mexico, they have sympathized with the immigrants and criticized the Arizona immigration law, calling it racist.  

But a significant number of Hispanics, especially in the Republican Party, back Governor Jan Brewer and the law known as SB 1070. Jesse Hernandez, chairman of the Arizona Latino Republican Association, is one of the them.

"There is one thing Jan Brewer is willing to do and that is enforce SB 1070, whereas her opponent, the Democrat, will not," Hernandez says.

But, despite wording in the law designed to prevent discrimination, most Hispanics think they will be targeted and many of them criticize Hernandez for his stand.

"They will come out with the comment that you are a racist, you turned against your own people -the name calling, 'Coconut,' brown on the outside, white on the inside, and that just shows me how ignorant [they are] and what a lack of education they have," says Hernandez. "Because, basically, what they are trying to say is that the Latino community does not have independent thinkers like any other culture, that we do not have differences of opinion on public policies."

Critical stance

But many Republican Hispanics oppose the immigration law and are upset with state party leaders.  Dee Dee Garcia Blase heads the group Somos Republicans, Spanish for "We are Republicans."

Blase is trying to rally Hispanic Republicans nationwide to her organization.

"We are socially conservative, we are proud of it," says Blase. "We are for less government, less taxes, but the SB 1070 is the litmus test as we continue to push and want to grow Hispanic Republicans."

The party is making a big mistake in alienating Hispanics says immigration attorney Jose Penalosa.

"The power of the Latino vote is going to call the shot here in the next generation and the party is going to look back and realize that they have committed generational suicide, election suicide, by not reaching out to people and trying to bring them in, people who have their own values," says Penalosa.

How will Hispanics vote?

Public-opinion polls show strong support for Governor Brewer and SB1070, so Republicans will likely do well in November's midterm election.  But as the Hispanic population and voter base grows, the outlook for future elections could change.

Republicans may be throwing away gains they made among Hispanics under the leadership of former President George W. Bush," says Arizona State University Political Science Professor Patrick Kenney.

"The Republican Party was exactly reaching out to Latinos, especially Mexicans, who are Catholic, on some of these social issues, controversial issues, like abortion, and I think they made some inroads there," Kenney says. "But those inroads have been washed away by this hardcore position by the Republican Party."

Democrat vs Republican

Hispanic voters favored Democrats by around two-to-one in recent Arizona elections and, as the community and voter base grows, Democratic Party spokesperson Jennifer Johnson says her party is likely to gain.

"We have seen an increase in interest in voter registration drives, there has been a lot more activity among Latino community groups in registering voters and trying to give people an outlet for the anger or frustration they feel," she says.

But many Hispanic families remain divided over the issue and Jesse Hernandez says it all comes down to the failure of the federal government to stop illegal immigration at the border.

"For a society to be successful and to do well, you have got to have laws and when you start breaking laws when it is convenient to just one race, class or one group then you start going down a very slippery slope,"  Hernandez argues.

Observers say the debate among Hispanics and in the public at large over the immigration issue is likely to go well beyond this year's elections.   

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