Published November 14, 2012
Newt Gingrich is trying and so is Jeb Bush. President George W. Bush tried and so did John McCain.
Many have tried and many have failed to convince the GOP that their stance toward Hispanics must change, and now even Karen Hughes, former press secretary to George W. Bush, is adding her two cents of common sense with these words: "The immigration rhetoric that came out of the Republican primary seemed harsh, unwelcoming and off-putting to many minority voters."
That's an understatement. Yes, Mitt Romney and the GOP screwed up by hurling divisive terms such as "self deportation" and "back of the line" when talking about our nation's immigration problems. He/they may not have known how big a screw up it was, but those of us who came to this country as immigrants—legal or not, Hispanic or not—got the message loud and clear.
So now it's responsible members of the GOP who’ve either been warning others in the party against angering Latinos all along (or wishing they had) who now find themselves trying desperately to put the toothpaste back in the tube.
It's a no-brainer —a must do— especially given the GOP's lopsided loss among Latinos and Asians, the nations two fastest growing minority groups. Obama increased his share of the Hispanic vote and won it 69 percent to 29 percent (per The New York Times exit poll). Likewise, President Obama built a huge margin among Asian voters, 74 percent to 25 percent, almost doubling his margin of support in 2008.
Here's the problem for the GOP: as well-meaning as Karen, George, Newt, Jeb and John may be, what they say about "changing the tone" alone is not enough. That ship has sailed, with the Democrats at the helm.
When it comes to immigration, it's no longer about tone or words.
It's about what I and many others like me in the Latino community have been saying all along: it's about facts. And that's an area where Republicans can trump Democrats because the Dems don’t get it either.
Let's take Governor Romney's famous "back of the line comment." Really?
Are you telling me that someone who's been here for a decade (or two), has consistently held down a job (or two) and has paid property taxes and sales taxes should be replaced by somebody, somewhere who’s just arrived and never contributed a dime to this country?
Is he really saying that the undocumented immigrants who subsidize our social security system to the tune of $13 billion a year because their wages are garnished anonymously through a tax ID number instead of a social security number don’t have enough "skin in the game" to earn a path to citizenship? Think about it. They work for a decade or more paying into social security so we can retire, but they'll never see a dime of it. Who do they give up their place in line to?
Can he truly mean that someone who goes to church and raises productive American-born children who do well in school has to get the hell out, or self-deport? And be replaced by whom? Somebody, somewhere who will take their place in line as long as they're not Mexicali?
Never mind that conservative groups like the Restaurant Associations and Farm Associations of the most very red states like Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama all say that if you push these immigrants out, you'll cripple our industries.
Never mind that economists say if we push them out, we'll double our food prices, cooked and uncooked. And we'll double our housing costs.
And that's not the least of it in what we'll pay.
Never mind that our population is getting older and we need the type of demographics that immigrants represent to fight in our wars, pay down our aforementioned social security, and provide the backbreaking labor only hungry young bodies are able or willing to do.
What I'm saying is forget tone. Changing the tone, changing the words that are used, isn't enough. It's about the facts. And the fact of the matter is what Mitt Romney said during the primary season about "self-deportation" and "going to the back of the line" is just plain stupid. It's stupid because it belies the facts.
Leadership is about telling the truth even when it hurts —it's about painstakingly putting facts before easy access applause lines for the sake of a primary win.
The facts are these: many of the immigrants in this country who don't have papers were unofficially recruited or invited by U.S. companies to come here. And they were then given a government tax ID number so they could work and so we could collect their taxes to share among the rest of us. Those are facts that refute the other often overused applause line heard all too often: "freeloaders."
To some in the GOP these may be hard facts to hear or accept, but they're the kind of facts you need to use when you're trying to do something equally hard—like putting toothpaste back in the tube.
It's going to take facts and concrete actions—not words or tone—for the true leaders in the GOP to bring Hispanics into the fold, to make them feel included and invested