Here's a fascinating point about how Republicans talk about immigration from a Newsweek interview with New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who's been mentioned on one occasion or another as a potential Vice Presidential nominee:
As we sit down at a local Starbucks, I ask about immigration. It’s a topic she has been reluctant to discuss since winning the Republican primary in 2010, so what comes next is surprising: a battle plan that contradicts nearly everything the GOP has been doing and saying since 2007, Romney’s “self-deportation” strategy included. “‘Self-deport?’ What the heck does that mean?” Martinez snaps. “I have no doubt Hispanics have been alienated during this campaign. But now there’s an opportunity for Gov. Romney to have a sincere conversation about what we can do and why.”
Naturally, Martinez has some suggestions. First, Republicans should remind Latinos that Obama pledged to pass comprehensive immigration reform by the end of his initial year in office, but “didn’t even have the courage to try.” Next, the GOP should outflank the president--on the left--by proposing its own comprehensive plan. “I absolutely advocate for comprehensive immigration reform,” Martinez says, , sipping a caramel macchiato. “Republicans want to be tough and say, ‘Illegals, you’re gone.’ But the answer is a lot more complex than that.” Martinez envisions an approach “with multiple levels”: increased border security; deportation for criminals; a guest-worker program for people who want “to go freely back and forth across the border to work”; a DREAM Act-style pathway to citizenship, through the military or college, for children brought here illegally by their parents; and a visa (coupled with a “penalty” or a “tagback”) that allows rest of the illegal population to remain in the U.S. while they follow standard naturalization procedures.
Martinez’s point is not that Republicans should peddle so-called “amnesty.” In New Mexico, she’s taken a lot of heat from Latinos for repeatedly pushing to repeal a state law that allows illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses; she also opposes a standalone DREAM Act, arguing that politicians can’t “fix [immigration] by saying, ‘Here’s the DREAM Act and we’re done. It has to be part of a larger plan.” She simply believes that a more pragmatic approach will help Republicans in the long run, particularly if it’s paired with the sort of issues-based appeal that inspired her to switch parties and a more aggressive campaign to recruit Hispanic candidates for local office. Maybe then the GOP can finally do what she did in her first statewide contest: approach the magic 40-percent mark among Latino voters. That alone would be enough to swing a presidential election.
“We’ve got to stop with the rhetoric,” Martinez says on her way out of Starbucks. “I’m so tired of the rhetoric. ‘Lower taxes,’ you know. ‘More opportunity.’ Da da da. It’s this five-liner of nothingness. There have to be some distinctions for people to latch onto.”
This last point is particularly key, and I wonder if it's been lost on too many of those on the right. Hispanics are often painted as communities of outreach met with a broad brush of aspiration and pablum. But in reality, the overlaps on specific policy issues should allow for much more targeted appeals. Martinez's dismissal of the "five liner of nothingness" is refreshing to hear from a Republican, and others would be wise to heed it.