The election results definitively proved the former. The Hispanic vote was decisive in denying Romney a win in Colorado, Nevada, Florida and possibly Virginia. Without winning more Hispanic votes, the Republican Party may be doomed to permanent minority status.
Hispanics are the fastest growing population in the country. As a group they are younger, have slightly higher birthrates and greater longevity than other groups (80.6 years compared to 78.1 years for non-Hispanic whites), which means the demographic shifts to more Hispanic and fewer non-Hispanic white voters will only increase over time, even if all immigration were halted today.
In 2012, Hispanic voters made up 10 percent of the electorate, up 1 percent over 2008, while the non-Hispanic white vote declined by 2 percent in the same period to 72 percent. But this demographic shift would not necessarily doom Republican chances of winning the White House were it not for the party's insistence on alienating Hispanic citizens by pursuing draconian measures against illegal immigrants.
Most of my fellow conservatives don't understand why Hispanic citizens are so offended at the party's position. What part of illegal don't you understand, they ask. We aren't against legal immigration, they say, just illegal immigration. Indeed, Mitt Romney tried this line by saying he'd award a green card to any foreign student graduating with a degree in science, technology, engineering or math from a U.S. school.
So let me try to explain. First, even for someone like me whose family has been here for centuries, the tone of the debate on illegal immigration has been unsettling. Illegal immigration is down to historically low levels, the lowest in 40 years. Border security is higher than it has ever been in the nation's history, and deportations are at a modern high. Still, the GOP platform and Romney himself insisted that those illegal immigrants who are living here -- some of them for decades -- must self-deport.
I doubt there is a Hispanic anywhere who doesn't know at least one individual or family this policy would affect. Illegal immigrants are not numbers -- they're people we know.
Telling workers, friends and family members, we don't want you here -- no matter how productive and law-abiding you are and no matter how long you've lived here -- sounds very much to us as if we're being told the same thing.
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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