Florida Republican Senator gave a passionate response to President Obama’s State of the Union address. (NBC News screen grab)

Opinion: Rubio showed the GOP is serious about immigration and Latino outreach

After watching the president’s State of the Union speech, I’m beginning to wonder how serious Latinos are about immigration reform. Surely for those who are out of status this is serious business, but the game seems less about fixing immigration and more about fixing to get over on the GOP. Latinos want solutions, not partisanship, but the immigration issue seems all too tempting for Democrats to capitalize on even at the expense of Latinos.

For the first time, an official response to the president’s State of the Union Speech was made in English and in Spanish. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida was tagged by party leadership to be the face of the GOP, and it seems as though the tail isn’t wagging the dog so much in the Republican Party lately when it comes to Latinos.

Yet, the other day, Representative Xavier Becerra said that the Democrats have “moved on” from a Dreamer-only pathway to citizenship. Are the Democrats going to insist on citizenship over legalization to the detriment of a compromise when many immigrants do not necessarily want citizenship to begin with?

Carlos Mora is an American citizen who wants his dad back, yet in the president’s speech Mr. Obama once again boasted about his immigration policy that has systematically ripped families like Carlos’ apart for reasons no Republican president has tried to justify since President Eisenhower.

In the meantime, Republicans who can count to 52 million are lining up behind a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and the Party leadership seems intent on supporting Latino Republicans, like Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Governor Susana Martinez of New Mexico, to recruit more Latinos into the GOP.

Of course, one can’t expect this to be appreciated by partisan Latinos who are doing what they can to ignore the president’s policy of forced removal and salivating at the prospect of using immigration to leverage the GOP out of existence. I asked some of these folks when was the last time the official Democrat response to the State of the Union was in English and Spanish? And I remind them that it was a Republican, President Bush, who conducted the first radio address in Spanish more than ten years ago.

That was before the War on Terror, which brought renewed strength to our xenophobic impulses, but it’s time we move forward. While the losing fight by the cultural purists within the Republican Party continues, it is time to confront these racist forces within the GOP so that the party can finally pose a challenge to Democrats who are all too willing to use Latino suffering for electoral gains.

And the Marco Rubios of the GOP may soon have more help in doing so. Gabriel Gomez, the son of Colombian immigrants who is a former Navy SEAL recently announced his candidacy for Senate in Massachusetts. The GOP would be wise to put some serious effort behind his campaign and find more like him throughout the country.

Erika Andiola is a nationally-recognized leader of Dreamers and she was asked by Google to participate in a Google Hangout to ask the president questions about immigration after the State of the Union, but once they discovered that Ms. Andiola’s mother and brother were recently victims of the president’s dragnet, they rescinded the invitation.

Perhaps they were afraid that the Republicans would point out the obvious hypocrisy of putting folks like Ms. Andiola on display when the president’s policies have been targeting her family. Maybe they were also afraid Ms. Andiola would refuse to give the president a pass in questioning his policies, as so many other Latinos have. But without a viable alternative to the Democrats, that’s exactly what we are doing.


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.


  1. Reblogged this on Stephen A. Nuño and commented:
    My latest for NBC Latino…

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