Republicans are finally worried that their failure to attract Hispanic voters in this year's election spells trouble -- perhaps for decades. But they're not sure what to do about it. Moderates in the party are pushing for more efforts at "inclusion," which usually means elevating a few Hispanics to symbolic but visible positions in national, state, and local politics. But with no Cabinet positions to hand out and so few prominent Hispanic elected officials to promote within their ranks, Republicans clearly won't gain much leverage with this strategy.
Some conservative Republicans, on the other hand, are either in denial or think they can control the problem by limiting the growth in the Hispanic immigrant population. (Just ask the 14 out of 16 hard-line, anti-immigration Republicans who lost their seats this time around to pro-comprehensive reform Democrats how well this worked at the polls.) But even if hard-liners were successful at stopping illegal immigration and dramatically reducing the number of Hispanic immigrants admitted legally, it wouldn't solve the simple demographic fact that U.S.-born Hispanics have higher fertility rates than whites or blacks. Hispanics will become a larger share of the population for the foreseeable future, though intermarriage rates will likely diminish their ethnic identification over time.
Still other Republicans hope that the party's message of self-reliance, low taxes, defense of life and support for traditional marriage will win over entrepreneurial and religious Hispanics. But while I think these positions have tremendous appeal and are the bedrock on which to build support in the Hispanic community, they're not enough.
The first thing Republicans have to overcome is a growing belief among Hispanics that they aren't welcome in the party -- or in America for that matter. According to a recent survey by America's Voice -- a liberal, pro-immigrant group -- two-thirds of Hispanics think that discrimination against them has increased in the last two years because of the tone of the immigration debate. Republicans have to deal with the consequences.
Here's a radical suggestion -- but one that wouldn't compromise Republican or conservative principles. Why doesn't the Republican Party launch an aggressive Welcome to America Campaign? The idea would be to set up a network of volunteers to reach out to Hispanic immigrants, and especially their American-born children, to teach English, American history and civics. Estimates are that four in 10 Hispanic voters in this year's election were naturalized citizens -- and 75 percent of them cast their votes for President-elect Barack Obama.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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