Hispanic voters are a critical part of the rainbow voting coalition that we call the Democratic Party. Unlike the GOP, which is almost exclusively white, the Democratic Party has been the natural home of most Hispanic voters since the era of President Franklin Roosevelt. The Party has long welcomed new Americans and supported the education of their children and the health of their parents.
It is easy to point to Republican anti-immigrant rhetoric as the reason that Hispanics vote so heavily for Democrats (71% of Latino voters backed President Obama’s re-election bid). In the spring of 2012, I knew that Governor Mitt Romney would lose when he stared at the camera during a primary debate and twice repeated “I will veto the Dream Act if it gets to my desk”. The Republicans could not fathom that they had not simply attacked undocumented immigrants, but they had also gone after the children of an entire community that highly values family.
However, it is not enough for Democrats to talk with Hispanic communities about why the GOP is the wrong answer. Successful campaigns are based on positive messages, not solely knocking the other side.
Provocative commentators and the few Republicans who make any effort at all in the community often point out that President deported more people in five years than his predecessor did in eight years.
The reality is more nuanced.
Congressional Republicans, whether in the Minority during the two last years of George W. Bush —a pro immigration Republican— or in the Majority since 2010 under President Obama, have blocked attempts at immigration reform led by each president.
It is true that five Democrats voted against the Dream Act when it last came to the Senate floor. (I did not support any of them for re-election.) But there were eight times as many Republicans in the Senate who voted “NO.” So the deportations continued, often dividing families, because the law could not be changed and the President must follow the law.
On the other hand, Obama was able to essentially suspend the deportation of “Dreamers” and he is trying to move reform again. And he and other Democrats, without a single Republican vote, have passed a health care bill which, despite its faults, will bring millions of Americans, and disproportionately Hispanics, affordable health insurance for themselves and their kids.
Education is another pillar on which Democrats have built a strong relationship with Latinos. The President and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have demanded more accountability in public schools and improved the student loan program for college students. Every immigrant and native Hispanic family understands that the way up in America is through education, and the President is making that more of a possibility.
The President has supported school and family nutrition programs that are so essential for hard-working people who are often a job loss away from being unable to feed their families. Yet, for some odd reason, Republicans viciously attack these programs.
Because of all of these efforts, I would argue that Democrats are doing the opposite of taking Hispanics for granted. Instead, our objective is to help each person in the Hispanic community, both documented and undocumented, have a chance at the American dream. Ironically, we even hope they can make so much money that they can afford to vote Republican, if they choose.