UNITED STATES - MARCH 16: Rep. Steve Pearce, R-NM., during the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort & Conference Center at National Harbor, Md., on Saturday, March 16, 2013.(Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)2013 Â© CQ Roll Call Group
Steve Pearce R-NM-2
He does not go by the new GOP playbook on how to woo Latino voters.
Rep. Steve Pearce, as conservative a Republican as they come, holds no-nonsense views on a pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants – if they want to live and work here as permanent residents, Pearce said, they need to back home and try to return the legal way.
If they don’t want to do that, if they want to work here right now, said Pearce, then they need to become legal guest workers.
So how does Pearce do in a district that has a Democratic majority and a Latino community that makes up nearly half of his constituency?
His simple answer: Just great, thank you. Pearce is the only Republican in New Mexico’s congressional delegation, thanks in large part to Latinos — 42 percent of whom voted for him.
At a time when Republicans are soul-searching following the bruising defeat of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney — who received only 27 percent of the Latino vote, compared with 71 percent for President Obama — Pearce’s solid Latino support has drawn the attention of his party’s top leaders.
In his district, Pearce, 65, is known for being a frequent visitor to Latino neighborhoods, civic organizations and community events.
Your job is to represent everybody. Get out and do your jobs. Go to where it’s not comfortable, where people will ask you the hard questions.
- U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, New Mexico Republican, to Repubilcans who want to win Latino support
“It’s about going out into the community, going to Mexican churches,” Pearce told Fox News Latino. “Talk with them about family, about the economy, you build up a sense of knowledge about who you are, I explain my views of the economy, of the world, in pretty down to earth terms.”
On Monday, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in no uncertain terms that the GOP had to reinvent itself — particularly with Latinos — in order to survive.
An RNC report recommended a $10 million outreach campaign to Hispanics, blacks, women and gays, as well as an official party endorsement of immigration reform, including a conditional version of amnesty to the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants now in the country.
“When Republicans lost in November, it was a wake-up call,” Priebus in an interview with The Washington Post.
Then Priebus proceeded to laud Pearce as the prototype for the future GOP politician.
“When a conservative like Steve Pearce in New Mexico wins in a predominantly Latino district,” Priebus said at a news conference this week. “We need to glean the lessons of his approach.”
Pearce thinks the attention is nice and all, but he doesn’t see what is so intriguing or complicated about getting Latino support.
“The concept of outreach is fine,” he said. "But it’s also misplaced.”
The outreach, as Pearce sees it, shouldn’t be about scoring Latino votes, but about seeing Latinos as a part of the community and constituency.
“I just don’t represent Republicans, they’re only 34 percent of my district,” Pearce said. “Your job is to represent everybody. Get out and do your jobs. Go to where it’s not comfortable, where people will ask you the hard questions.”
Pearce says he engages in real conversations in the communities he visits, doing as much listening as explaining.
In the past, Pearce has opposed the DREAM Act, a measure that would, among other things, give a pathway to legalization to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors and who meet certain requirements.
He simply doesn’t see it as fair to let them get the same lower in-state tuition as legal immigrants or citizens.
It’s not an anti-Hispanic move to oppose such measures, he insisted.
“I’m sensitive to the plight” of undocumented youth, he said, “but it would let people who are here illegally pay in-state tuition, but then a Hispanic student who is a U.S. citizen and wants to attend a college in this state would be charged out-of-state tuition. It seemed very unfair.”
Pearce said his views are not iron-clad, and that he is willing to change his mind on the DREAM Act, as well as a path to citizenship for other undocumented immigrants who do not qualify for the DREAM Act — particularly those that have been in the country for decades and have stayed out of trouble.
Pearce recounted how he has come to the defense of undocumented immigrants when he has witnessed exploitation.
When he heard about how a landlord in his district ripped off prospective tenants who were undocumented immigrants by taking rent and security deposit before they moved in — then keep the money after calling immigration authorities to deport them.
Pearce found it an unjust practice and he pressed local police to take action against the man.
"There's a moral law," he said he told the police. "Don't rent to them if you disagree with them being here, but he'd have them deported then profit from it."
“People coming here illegally, they come here to work,” he said, “work hard, I know that.”
What he is opposed to — an issue he makes a point of painstakingly explaining to Latino constituents — is any move that would appear as loophole for those who’ve broken immigration laws.
The current debate on immigration, said Pearce, “is very unproductive” without a solid system to make it easier to come legally and much harder to come illegally.
“A pathway to legalization is amnesty,” he said. “President Bush tried to do that, and President Reagan too. It tells people ‘You just get here and we’ll fix it eventually.”
Most Americans, Pearce said, are not against immigrants, they don’t even resent the undocumented.
“They’re angry at the government, they understand the ones who want to feed their families,” Pearce said. “They’re angry over the drug cartels, the government for an immigration and border system that’s so flawed.”
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente