Latinos support comprehensive immigration reform. That statement is about as newsworthy is saying the next Pope will be Catholic. What is extraordinary is when a Latino comes out against comprehensive reform, such as the case of Idaho GOP House member Raul Labrador.
At least three-quarters of the Latino electorate supports immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship. Not just bringing Latinos out of the shadows but allowing them to earn the right to become full members of our American democracy. Earned citizenship has been steadily gaining support beyond the borders of the Latino community.
According to the latest Gallup poll, over seventy percent of Americans support a path to legal residency or citizenship. Today not only does a majority of the voting American public support comprehensive immigration reform, a majority of Republicans support comprehensive immigration reform.
And among Republicans we have seen Evangelicals and Mormons taking the lead in advocating for immigration reform. So in other words, there are two groups that are politically most supportive of comprehensive immigration reform – Latinos and religious Republicans, such as Mormons.
So why is it that a devout Mormon Latino has staked out such a hard-line against earned citizenship? Second-term Republican congressman Raul Labrador has become the spokesperson against what his demographics would suggest he would support.
At first sight, Labrador’s position is puzzling – 75 percent of Latinos support comprehensive immigration reform! But, what about the other 25 percent? In fact, one out of ten Latinos support a deportation-based solution to immigration. An overwhelming majority is not an absolute majority and we can’t lose sight of this with the issue of immigration.
Rep. Labrador is speaking for a group of Americans, both Latinos and non-Latinos, that have a clear policy preference as to how immigration reform should proceed. To be clear, he is not in favor of a deportation-and-enforcement-only solution to immigration. Raul Labrador advocates for a path to legalized status and expanded guest worker programs, but he has drawn the line in the sand when it comes to citizenship.
As a former immigration attorney, he is especially attuned to the issues of undocumented persons and wants to see a solution to our nation’s broken immigration system. But, as he is clear to point out, undocumented immigrants have knowingly broken the law by coming here illegally. His law and order stance is one that is shared by fellow Republican Governor Susana Martinez, and until recently Senator Marco Rubio.
The lack of political support for undocumented immigrants among Latino leaders is not new. In fact, one of the most outspoken leaders against undocumented immigrants was labor leader Cesar Chavez. In the formative days of Latino politics in the 1960s, U.S.-based Latinos viewed undocumented Latinos from Mexico as a direct economic, political, and cultural threat. In fact, leaders such as Chavez advocated for tighter control of the borders to prevent illegal immigration.
Latino leaders such as Chavez were not necessarily anti-immigrant, but they were firmly pro-U.S. Latino. This is a similar line of argument we are seeing from Republican Latinos today. Republican Latinos such as Labrador do not see themselves as being anti-Latino, but rather pro law and order and pro U.S. Latino. This position is not in line with the majority of Latinos, however it is one that resonates among conservative Republicans, Independents and even some Democrats.
Labrador is a figure that will be at the forefront of the immigration debate. His position is more complicated than that of simply being an immigration reform contrarian. His position, like that of other prominent Republican leaders, is a nuanced one and one that is reflective of the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.
In the coming months, as the immigration debate unfolds, Labrador’s apparent contrarian position will come to play a critical role. He will come to play as, if not more, important a role in the overhaul of our immigration reform than the usual suspects – Senator Rubio, the president, and even Representative Gutierrez. Keep your eye on the Mormon Latino from rural Idaho.
Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto is an NBC Latino and MSNBC contributor, Senior Analyst for Latino Decisions and Fellow at the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, at Austin.