By Cristóbal Alex and Ralph Patino
Time and time again, Americans have expressed support for comprehensive immigration reform. Throughout the year, it looked like we might be moving towards a solution, but in the House of Representatives, U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia along with 199 congressional sponsors on both sides of the aisle were unable to get a vote on the floor despite their best efforts. After much hemming and hawing about how committed they were to immigration reform, the Republican-led House did nothing to advance reform. In a politically-motivated maneuver earlier this month after the U.S. Senate had adjourned, they passed a $694 million border security bill that limits due process for many of the Central American migrants, including unaccompanied minors, looking to escape the violence of their home countries. In their continued spirit of compassion, they also passed a bill that halts and prevents the extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which temporarily provides DREAMers protection from deportation.
In other words, after more than a year of waiting as efforts have been stalled in Congress to pass legislation for comprehensive immigration reform, the House Republicans finally decided to take action against the Latino community. And, adding insult to injury, they passed a message bill knowing full well it would never see the light of day — an anti-Latino message we are hearing loud and clear.
The move was a symbolic gesture that clearly establishes Republican thinking as we approach the midterm elections — one that focuses on fear of immigrants instead of their contributions. It is a shameful tactic because it breeds an environment where false information and offensive rhetoric about Latino immigrants are likely to persist.
Unfortunately, some of that has come from House Republicans such as Michele Bachmann and Steve King. In Florida, a state that has benefited from its diverse immigrant population, leaders such as Charlie Crist and Annette Taddeo support immigration reform. We need more leaders like these across the nation to change the misconceptions of Latino immigrants who are simply looking for an opportunity to work hard and positively contribute to this country. The local community in Miami, supported by many immigrant civic and business leaders, has always been supportive of those seeking freedom and pursuing the American dream.
And just as important, we need the collective voice — 53 million strong — of our Latino community. A staggering 11.2 million Latinos voted in 2012, and many millions more will vote for president in 2016. This is no secret in the Sunshine State where Latinos make up more than 23 percent of the state’s population and more than 14 percent of the state’s 11.2 million registered voters.
According to recent Latino Decisions polling, the decision to dismantle DACA will have a significant effect on Latino party identification. And in a subsequent Latino Decisions poll with the Center for American Progress, 84% of Latinos said they would be more enthusiastic toward the political party that renewed DACA. The poll also revealed that “only 30% of Latinos think the Republican Party ‘cares about people like me.'”
The response from the House of Representatives and certain senators to this crisis, and the lack of progress on immigration reform, will not make these numbers improve. Republicans who seek to make inroads among Latino voters should be concerned about this data and embarrassed by these antics in our nation’s legislative body. Instead of a question mark inviting further discussion, House Republicans definitively ended the debate with a bold exclamation point.
We are listening and so are the millions of Americans who believe our immigration system is broken. On Election Day, we will vote and hold leaders accountable who have refused to fix the problem. Republicans may rethink the message they gave in the summer of 2014 when they see the election results from Florida and battlegrounds across the country in November 2014 and 2016.
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Cristóbal Alex is the president of the Latino Victory Project and the Latino Victory Foundation, an ambitious effort co-founded by Eva Longoria and Henry Muñoz to build Latino political power.
Ralph G. Patino is a founding board member of the Latino Victory Project, and the managing shareholder, president and COO of Patino & Associates, P.A.