As a union organizer, Cesar Chavez, whose birthday we commemorate today, was no friend of immigrants who slipped across the border illegally to provide cheap labor in the fields of California that undercut the drive for living wages for farm workers.
Hell, the United Farm Workers was known to have reported illegal strike-breakers to “la migra,” and in 1973, they set up a “wet line” (imagine the outrage if anyone else had used the term) along the US-Mexico border to stop immigrants from sneaking into the country illegally and undermining the UFW’s work organizing field hands.
But Chavez – especially in his later years — was a strong proponent of allowing illegal immigrants living and working here to become legalized, and today would surely be fighting for a path to citizenship, as his granddaughter, Dr. Cynthia Chavez, made clear in a TV ad for Jerry Brown during the 2010 governor’s race.
Which makes today the perfect opportunity to focus on an issue that Calbuzz has hammered on repeatedly – the need for California Republicans to support a path to citizenship for illegal and undocumented workers. Not because it’s the right and decent thing to do – never a powerful argument with the knuckle-dragging wing of the GOP — but because it’s a matter of their party’s political survival.
Failure to communicate: Don’t take our word for it. Some of the smartest Republicans around make the case. “A pathway to citizenship for those who have entered the country illegally is the most important element of immigration reform for Latino voters,” wrote Marty Wilson and Bob Moore, after a recent Moore Information survey of Latino voters in California.
According to the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California, about nine in 10 Latinos (86%) favor giving illegal immigrants “a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status.” That’s a position shared by 68% of Democrats and 62% of independents but just 41% of Republicans.
What we have here is a failure to communicate. And the political effects are profound.
“Latino voters are widely negative about the Republican Party (26% favorable/47% unfavorable/27% no opinion) and widely positive about the Democrat[ic] Party (62/22/17),” Wilson and Moore wrote. Nor is the GOP “going to win many Latino voters by stressing conservatism; only 22% suggest that Republicans should, ‘stick to core values and nominate true Conservatives.’
Fully a third of Latino voters say they will never vote for a Republican although another third would consider GOP candidates if “Republicans move toward the center and nominate candidates who are less conservative.”
The big picture: To appreciate the magnitude of the challenge for the Republicans in California, it helps to understand first the national context.
During the past decade, the Latino population in the U.S. grew 43 times faster than the non-Hispanic white population, the Census Bureau reported last week. Between 2000 and 2010 the U.S. Hispanic population grew 43%, to 50.5 million from 35.3 million. Latinos’ share of the total population rose to 16% from 13% — accounting for more than half the total U.S. population growth in the decade.
At the same time, Census Bureau officials reported, the non-Hispanic white population grew by barely more than 1 percent, dropping as a portion of the total from to 64% from 69%.
“The states with the largest percent growth in their Hispanic populations include nine where the Latino population more than doubled, including a swath in the southeast United States – Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and South Carolina. The Hispanic population also more than doubled in Maryland and South Dakota,” reports the Pew Hispanic Center in an analysis of the Census Bureau report.
“In six states, growth in the Hispanic population accounted for all of those states’ population growth; if the Hispanic population had not grown, those states would not have grown,” Pew added. “They included Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. In Michigan, the state population declined over the decade but the Hispanic population grew.”
No place to hide: While Latinos in Florida, New York, Illinois and California cannot be viewed as a monolithic voting bloc – voters of Cuban, Puerto Rican, Haitian and Mexican ancestry, for example, cannot be easily categorized politically – surveys consistently find a common thread is a belief that there ought to be a mechanism for allowing illegal immigrants to become legal residents and/or full citizens.
And with the continued growth of Hispanics, red states are becoming less reliable safe harbors for Republicans (consider Nevada, for example) and so too are formerly “safe” Republican districts in California.
“Increasingly for California Republicans, there’s no place to run, no place to hide,” said Democratic consultant Garry South who, with former Republican state Sen. Jim Brulte, recently analyzed the changing electoral landscape for their partners at California Strategies.
“The demographics are moving so heavily against them, it’s becoming very difficult to maintain a meaningful number of completely safe GOP seats almost anywhere.
“Most of the huge Latino growth between 2000 and 2010 was in inland areas normally considered Republican, not along the coast,” South said “And Asians grew by even more than Latinos. Together, Latinos and Asian Americans now constitute an absolute majority of Californians. Republicans are getting on average about 30-35 percent of their votes. Do the math.”
Said South and Brulte in their analysis:
Based upon the historical standard of “safe” verses “competitive” districts, there will likely be a few more competitive legislative and congressional districts. That said, given that the top two vote getters regardless of political party run off in the November general election, the historical notion of “safe” districts now no longer applies.
While many GOP legislators, donors and activists, believe a “fair” redistricting presents a great opportunity, there is also a huge potential downside risk for the GOP as well. If the Democratic Party’s consistently overwhelming financial advantage is not countered at the legislative level, it is possible that Democrats [will] obtain a two-thirds majority in one or both houses of the state Legislature in 2012.
The GOP has not experienced a net pick up of legislative seats in a presidential election since 1984.
The Elephants’ elephant: In their analysis of Latino voters, Wilson and Moore call immigration “the elephant in the GOP living room.” The Arizona immigration law is widely unpopular among Latino voters, immigration reform is widely popular and Democrats are more likely than Republicans to be trusted, by a ratio 0f 57-21%, to reform immigration laws.
And the central issue is a pathway to citizenship.
Why is it so hard for Republicans to move on this issue? Because – partly in fear of an influx of Democratic-leaning voters – they’ve spent years railing against illegal immigration and appealing to the most nativistic and xenophobic impulses of their base voters. Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman – who otherwise might have been quite moderate on the issue – tacked so far right on immigration they made themselves pariahs among Latino voters in the 2010 governor’s race.
Even Mike Murphy, who made a bloody fortune leading Whitman’s disastrous 2010 campaign for governor, seems to have gotten the point. The GOP is saddled with a “base-driven strategy that has injected red-hot rhetoric into our party’s message on immigration” he told the Washington Post. “Primary politics have made the situation even worse,” Murphy said, suggesting as Chris Cillizza reported, that GOP opposition to some sort of path toward legalization is a “non-starter” for Hispanic voters. No duh.
Wilson and Moore tested one message they believe can help the GOP find greater favor among Latinos. “A candidate who says, ‘secure the border first, stop illegal immigration, then find a way to address the status of people already here illegally’ gets a favorable reaction from 73%,” they found.
Others have suggested the GOP could favor legal residency, but not full citizenship with the right to vote, for undocumented workers. Still others say if an illegal immigrant serves in the U.S. military or graduates from college, he or she ought to be able to become a citizen.
How the keepers of the John Tanton anti-immigrant flame in California would react to a movement within the California Republican Party (or by a statewide GOP candidate) toward a more moderate line on immigration is, sadly, predictable. The phrase “head on a stick” comes to mind.
“I don’t think a Republican candidate can win on this issue either way in California,” said South “If they support a path to citizenship, they enrage and alienate their lily-white base. If they oppose it or try to straddle the issue, they just become the typical anti-immigrant Republican who wants to deport every Latino back to Mexico. They’re fucked. Hee, hee.”
Happy Cesar Chavez Day!