Esther Cepeda: Democrats better stop taking Hispanics for granted

By ESTHER CEPEDAOctober 14, 2013 

CHICAGO -- It has been only seven months since Republicans put out a manifesto calling on the party to adjust its tone with ethnic minority voters. So far, there's been little progress to show for it. But I wouldn't count the GOP out yet.

Sure, Republicans have done a poor job of keeping the loonier elements from dragging their good names through the gutter -- outrageous claims about drug-smuggling DREAM Act-eligible immigrants spring to mind.

And the gulf between mainstream Republican thinking and that of Hispanics keeps getting wider on the most sensitive issue -- immigration.

As the economy slowly rebounds, Hispanics, nearly a third of whom believed as recently as 2010 that illegal immigration had a negative effect on U.S. Latinos, now feel less animosity on the issue, according to the Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project. Recent figures show that 45 percent of Hispanic adults say the impact of unauthorized immigration on Hispanics already living in the U.S. is positive, up 16 percentage points from 2010.

Then there are the much-publicized numbers about Hispanics' party perceptions. The Public Religion Research Institute's 2013 Hispanic Values survey says that only 12 percent of Hispanics believe the phrase "cares about people like you" better describes the Republican Party, while 43 percent say it better describes the Democrats.

But never underestimate the power of disappointment, disillusionment and disgust.

In Chicago, the Moratorium on Deportations Campaign (MDC), a coalition of grass-roots community organizers, has turned on immigrants' de facto national representatives -- the large, Democrat-backed advocacy organizations that get most of the money and all the attention in the debate -- claiming they are misrepresenting the current consensus on reform measures to the very people who will be most impacted by any changes in the law.

Calling the mainstream immigration reform movement a "scam" wrapping itself in buzzwords such as "dignity," "respect" and "keeping families together," the MDC says Democrats' efforts on immigration amount to a "giant PR campaign, a way to make false promises to immigrants, while pushing legislation benefiting corporate interests that need cheap labor, disposable people and a steady supply of prisoners."

Jose Herrera, a Chicago-based organizer with the MDC, told me that people he talks to in the community are sick of being lied to by Democrats and their empty promises on immigration -- a concern I've heard from other immigrant advocacy organizations across the country. He says that small activist groups have a "newly cautious and critical perspective on who our allies are and [our allegiances] will rest with those who will be willing to tell the truth."

Republicans may not be as warm and fuzzy as Democrats, but at least they aren't cynically using an issue dear to Hispanics' hearts as a battering ram to undermine their political opponents.

President Obama keeps blaming the big bad Republicans for not bringing about immigration reform. But as the symbolic 2 millionth unauthorized immigrant is deported by the Obama administration, you have to wonder whether the party that keeps overpromising and under-delivering on its No. 1 campaign pledge to Latinos is really any better than a party that is as honest about their stance on immigration as they are about their desire to court Hispanics who will actually vote.

Tally those Hispanic voters who will think twice about casting ballots for Democrats should immigration reform fail and add them to the 15 percent of Hispanic Values survey respondents who said they identify as Republican and the 24 percent who consider themselves politically independent. It starts looking like there's still fertile Hispanic ground for Republicans.

Democrats need to stop their premature dance on the GOP's grave.

On the very day that the Democratic National Committee sent out a gleeful e-blast about the supposedly "stalled" state of Republican outreach to Latinos -- "Majorities of Hispanics side with Democrats on issues like government spending and healthcare, which are ranked as their most important political concerns" -- the Republican National Committee was announcing Hispanic field and state directors in California, Florida, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.

The RNC ought to think about putting a Hispanic outreach director in President Obama's backyard -- I think he or she might find many willing listeners.

Esther Cepeda is a columnist for The Washington Post. Email, estherjcepeda@washpost.com. Twitter, @estherjcepeda.

Anchorage Daily News is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service