The irony is that the assault on Latinos in Arizona and Colorado has mobilized them. Immigration is now the most important issue for Latinos and it has compelled them to action. More important, Hispanics largely blame Republicans for the anti-immigrant sentiment that has driven them to participate.
In their latest surveys, Latino Decisions reports that where once Latinos did not see immigration as a top priority, the issue has risen in importance. The GOP thinks they can appeal to Latinos through economic arguments, but immigration is a deeply personal that will make any GOP argument based on economics fall on deaf ears. Almost 70 percent of Latinos in Colorado know someone who is undocumented and the majority of Latinos know someone who would qualify for a reprieve under the Dream Act.
Governor Jan Brewer, former Senate President Russell Pearce and Tom Tancredo have dominated the discussion about immigration and the leadership in the GOP has seen no reason not to integrate that language into the party. Despite the central role Kris Kobach has played in dusting up ire against Latinos, Mitt Romney continues to keep the Secretary of State in Kansas and author of SB1070 as an advisor to his campaign.
Republicans like Kobach and Governor Brewer sensed that the growing population of Latinos presented them with an opportunity to excite voters with fears of crime waves, conquests, and the cultural extinction of “American.s” They appealed to the underlying conception of ownership in this country manifested through the GOP. Yet, so far they have won.
The short-term goal of re-election proved too much temptation to bear, but as it did in California, the long-term repercussions will be negative for the GOP. How long this will take is unknown, but if the latest polls are correct, the GOP may have to confront its demons sooner than later in states like Arizona and Colorado.
The demographic growth of Latinos presents a threat to political power, particularly in States like Arizona and Colorado, and that is the primary reason we see assaults on Latino identity and a fervent desire to codify legitimate membership through the language of citizenship.
Where citizenship was once clearly defined as a “free white man” in the Naturalization Act of 1790, the inclusion of greater diversity through immigration has required more creative acrobatics to exclude non-whites.
The last four years have been a stark example of this and the latest polls by Latino Decisions illustrates the potential repercussions politicians face should they decide to use old systems of control that are becoming increasingly difficult to employ as the population shifts in its diversity.
Tom Tancredo, who split from the GOP in Colorado because of his harsh stance on immigration and Russell Pearce of Arizona who has since been recalled, have dominated the debate within the Republican Party around the concept of paperwork as means to delegitimize Latinos. Documents. Identification. But the real result of anti-immigrant laws like SB1070, while on their face were meant to simply check the immigration status of those suspected of being here without proper documentation, had the impact of casting a shadow of suspicion on all Latinos.
And as the Latino population grows, and as ownership of the identity of Americanness expands to include Hispanics by sheer force of numbers, Latinos have responded by showing the GOP they will unite behind the issue of immigration, if nothing else.
Stephen A. Nuño, Ph.D., NBC Latino contributor and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University. He is currently writing a book on Republican outreach into the Latino Community.