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GOP needlessly cedes Latino vote

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SAN DIEGO – It’s an old story with a new twist.

Sometimes, one political party is so unbelievably incompetent at dealing with a particular constituency that it is easy for the other party to mistreat that group, or at the very least provide it with poor customer service, because those voters have nowhere else to go.

Case in point: Latinos. Democrats continue to deceive them into thinking that the party has got their back on immigration while advancing a kind of protectionism for blue-collar workers by thwarting immigration reform. Meanwhile, the Obama administration deports millions of people, most of them Latino. Amazingly, Democrats get away with it, as evidenced by public opinion polls showing that Latinos still remain loyal to their abusers.

For this travesty, I blame … Republicans.

Don’t misunderstand. I know that some on the Latino left have resorted to blaming an immigration crackdown designed and carried out by Democrats in the executive branch on hapless Republican lawmakers in the legislative branch. That’s not what I’m saying.

In the arena of immigration enforcement – where thousands of families are callously split up, detainees are allegedly abused in their holding cells, and ice cream vendors are forcibly removed from the country while authorities claim to be targeting only serious and violent criminals – these policy failures belong at the doorstep of President Obama, the Department of Homeland Security, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement alone.

Yet in a different arena – the political one – it’s Republicans whose dishonesty and denseness on the immigration issue make it so easy for Democrats to maintain Latino support despite underperforming.

Lately, it seems that every time I speak to a Latino group, I hear someone complain about having to support “the lesser of two evils.” Some even look back nostalgically at the early 1970s, when a group of Mexican-American activists who were disenchanted with the Democratic Party formed the Raza Unida Party in an attempt to provide themselves with the political representation that they weren’t getting from either of the two major political parties.

Meanwhile, when I speak to Republicans about reaching out to Latinos, I’m often reminded of just how difficult that task is likely to be.

It’s a mixed bag. Some on the right understand the demographic reality and have come to grips with the fact that – as the U.S. population marches on to the point where it is almost 25 percent Latino by 2030, and as 50,000 Latinos reach voting age every month – the GOP won’t survive if its brand continues to be toxic with America’s largest minority.

But, remarkably, other Republicans are still in denial and refuse to change their ways or even admit they don’t know how to talk about the immigration issue in ways that don’t anger or alienate Latinos.

Consider the radio talk show host Steve Malzberg – a self-described Republican – who recently tried to convince me that Latinos don’t care about immigration anyway, at least not as much as jobs and the economy. And if the first assumption is wrong and it turns out they do care, well, Malzberg said, they’re never going to vote for Republicans in significant numbers anyway so why bother going after them – especially if it means the GOP might turn off its base of conservative voters.

My goodness. Where to begin?

It seems someone has never heard of Ronald Reagan, who got 40 percent of the Latino vote in 1984, or George W. Bush, who got 44 percent in 2004. I explained to Malzberg that Latinos do care about immigration – especially the foreign-born who became naturalized U.S. citizens and especially when all Latinos feel as if they’re under fire by measures such as the Arizona immigration law

I also explained that it was stupid for Republicans to routinely walk into the traps set by Democrats by saying and doing dumb things, coddling nativists and racists, refusing to hold employers accountable for hiring illegal immigrants, and proposing simplistic and unworkable solutions to what is a complicated problem.

Finally, I suggested that Republicans, at long last, put Democrats – and their horrible record on immigration – on the defensive by going after Obama’s heavy-handed enforcement record, instead of cheering it and calling for even more deportations.

The right wing is doing everything wrong.

This Thanksgiving, when it comes to underserving Latino voters, Democrats really have something to be thankful for: Republicans.

E-mail: ruben@rubennavarrette.com. Copyright, The Washington Post Writers Group.

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