In the four years since President George W. Bush failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform, anti-immigrant sentiment in the GOP has grown to a fever pitch. At least three Republican-led states have passed draconian laws restricting every aspect of life for undocumented immigrants – Alabama, for example, has made municipal water-usage a deportable offense – and Republican voters have shunned a presidential candidate, Texas Governor Rick Perry, over his willingness to accomodate the children of undocumented immigrants. Conservatives have grown so hostile to immigrants that, at this point, it has become to alienate some Latino Republicans.
Last week, for example, saw one prominent Latino leader leave the Republican Party. Lauro Garza was Texas state director for Somos Republicans – the nation’s largest conservative Latino group – and a well-known figure within Texas Republican figures. In a letter explaining his decision to leave the GOP, Garza cited the party’s inhospitable climate to Latino immigrants, attacking the anti-immigrant laws in Arizona, Georgia and Alabama as “nullification” of the Constitution, and denouncing presidential candidate Herman Cain for his suggestion that the U.S. place an electric fence along its border with Mexico. “He says he was “joking.” Nobody here is laughing! The fact the GOP allows and applauds such outrageous thoughts is beyond reprehensible,” writes Garza.
Garza was unavailable for comment when I contacted Somos Republicans, but Dee Dee Garcia – president and founder of the organization – was willing to offer a few words. “We have been waiting for the RNC and GOP leadership to denounce the use of violent rhetoric against Latino immigrants,” said Garcia. “An Alabama Republican suggested that we ‘empty the clip’ into immigrants, and a Tennessee Republican compared them to rats and roaches – Herman Cain’s electric fence comment was just the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she said, explaining Garza’s decision to leave the party. By Garcia’s lights, Republicans were using language that would be unthinkable if applied to any other group, “How would Herman Cain feel if we [Somos] made jokes and comments about lynchings and slavery?”, she said.
Garcia clarified that Garza hadn’t joined the Democratic Party – at this point, he was an “independent conservative.” Democrats who hope to capitalize on anti-immigrant sentiment within the GOP should keep this in mind. In a world where a Democratic president is responsible for the most deportations in American history, Latinos have excellent reason to be skeptical of the Democratic Party. Democrats will have to do a lot more than not be Republicans if they want to reap the benefits of GOP intolerance.