After a heated opening between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney over capitalism and Freddie Mac consulting at the NBC Florida debate, surprisingly the night’s most memorable moments took place when Latino matters surfaced.
Just in time to resonate with 22 percent of Floridians who are Latinos and the 1.2 million Cubans who reside in Florida, Fidel Castro’s fate of heaven or hell was the only moment that woke up this lifeless audience. Gingrich said: "I don't think Fidel will meet his maker. I think he's going to the other place."
But by far the the most memorable and the oddest moment was Romney’s brilliant solution to immigration: self-deportation.
Immediately, a flood of live tweets from viewers, political insiders and Latino influencers jumped to criticize his confusing answer.
When asked about the process to send people home, Romney’s solution left the audience intrigued, speechless and confused. “The answer is self-deportation (with some remote laughter on the background) When they don’t have work or documents they will go back home…Ultimately we will then allow people to get back in line at home until the reach the front of the line,” Romney said.
The line? What line? One tweet from @AlxWindyCity said “hahaha…I’m, sure there is a line forming as we speak” Also a sympathetic Rick Santorum was quick to describe how his parents and grandparents were able to “follow the process," which was completely different from today’s bureaucratic and limited process to follow for those wishing to “get in the line.”
Is there a process for those who graciously self-deport so they can get into “the line” back at home? No, which highlights Romney’s ignorance on the issue. As a naturalized citizen who had to make sense of “the process," it is disappointing to see GOP candidates so out-of-touch with the true complexities of the current immigration process.
Ever wondered what the path to citizenship is? Let the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) answer the question for you: After a basic requirement of being over 18 years of age, the U.S. government requires you to be a green card holder for five years! So, how do you get a green card if you want to “get in the line?” Three or four clicks later and the USCIS website then takes you to a long list of green-card application forms that basically can be summarized as the following: A. be the child of a U.S. citizen, B. marry a citizen, C. be a refuge and/or D. qualify for the limited and convoluted job, entrepreneur or investor options.
Did you know that someone who comes into this country “legally” with a student visa has virtually no clear path or option to become “legal” after graduating from his college, masters or PhD? Note, these are not DREAMers (DREAMAct candidates), but “legal” immigrants who are stuck in limbo…
The issue is complex, and clearly Romney’s self-deportation strategy confirmed his lack of a strategy all together. And, while entertaining, immigration may not be the only winning card to get to the hearts of a diverse Latino population in Florida, which is dominated by Cubans in south Florida and Puerto Ricans in central Florida.
Why does this matter anyway? Because in 2008, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, President Barack Obama won 57 percent of Florida’s Hispanic vote, while 42 percent went to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), making Florida the first of many more battlegrounds like Nevada, Colorado and Arizona where Latinos could represent the winning difference for the GOP in their race to the White House.
Lili Gil is an award-winning business and Hispanic market expert and business and political media contributor. She is also co-founder and managing partner of XL Alliance a business strategy and marketing firm dedicated to help business leaders and corporations navigate and enter emerging multicultural markets. Gil was recently selected by the World Economic Forum as one of only 190 Young Global Leaders identified across 65 countries for her leadership, community and business impact. You can follow Lili on twitter @liligil