Republicans need to show support for Hispanic dreams

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Article Highlights

  • To win someone's vote, you need to be friendly to them and those they identify with.

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  • Net migration from Mexico to the United States fell to about zero in the recession year 2007.

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  • Republicans can perhaps gain entree with Hispanic voters by supporting comprehensive immigration reform.

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Rarely does a political party issue a document so scathingly critical of itself and its most recent presidential nominee as the report of the five-member Growth and Opportunity Project of the Republican National Committee.

It refers to Mitt Romney on occasion as "our presidential nominee" and notes disapprovingly of his reference, in the debate about immigration, to "self-deportation."

And while the report states modestly, "We are not a policy committee," it does call for a policy -- "comprehensive immigration reform" -- that many, perhaps most, Republican members of Congress oppose.

I think there's some risk here for the Republican National Committee. But there also may be some reward for Republicans generally.

The risk is of turning off officeholders and voters that Republicans need to win elections and prevail on issues. The reward is Republicans might be able to win some elections they'd otherwise lose.

"If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e., self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence," the report says.

"It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our advice."

To this they contrast George W. Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaign refrain: "Family values don't stop at the Rio Grande, and a hungry mother is going to feed her child."

Let me put it another way. To win someone's vote, you need to be friendly to them and those they identify with.

My observation in travel over the years is that Hispanics are treated very differently by Anglos in Texas than in California.

In Texas, white Anglos see people with Hispanic features as fellow Texans. They smile and say howdy.

They know, because they have to take Texas history in high school, that Hispanics have been living in Texas for more than 200 years and that some fought for Texas independence against Mexico.

In California, white Anglos, liberal or conservative, treat people with Hispanic features as landscape workers or parking valet attendants. They look past them without speaking or hand them their car keys.

George W. Bush's words about family values were very Texan, down to the reference to the Rio Grande.

That enabled him to win about 40 percent of Hispanic votes in 2004 (examination of county returns suggests the exit poll number of 44 percent is a little high).

As for Mitt Romney, when he said "self-deportation," he was actually describing something real.

The folks at the Pew Hispanic Center have concluded, I think with some reluctance, that net migration from Mexico to the United States fell to about zero in the recession year 2007. There may have been more reverse migration than inward migration since then.

But "self-deportation" and "reverse migration" are cold, abstract terms. Politicians (and pundits) need to look beneath unfeeling statistics for the effect on the lives of actual human beings.

And when you look at the RealtyTrac numbers of foreclosures in the peak years of 2007 and 2010, you find that a majority were in four states: California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida.

When you look at the counties with high foreclosure rates you're looking at the Central Valley, the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles, metro Las Vegas, metro Phoenix.

You're looking at tens of thousands of Hispanic homebuyers who were granted mortgages with little or no money down and that proved to be far beyond their capacity to service when housing crashed and the construction industry shut down.

Many such mortgages were issued because of government policy favoring minority homeownership and because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pushed this policy hard.

This was bad public policy that shattered people's dreams. Homebuyers had assumed they would amass wealth through supposedly inevitable housing price gains.

Instead, many -- and others who witnessed this tragedy -- gave up on the United States and moved back to Mexico.

Republicans can perhaps gain entree with Hispanic voters by supporting comprehensive immigration reform. At the very least, they need to avoid approaching this issue with the angry hostility you hear from too many callers on talk radio.

But they also need to show an understanding of the realities these people are facing. They need to show how their policies can help them achieve their dreams.

The Republican National Committee report is not a bad start.

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