Where is Home?

This guest op-ed was authored by the Chamber of the Americas, a non-profit organization facilitating commerce and understanding between the businesses and governments of the Western Hemisphere. It is reproduced in full.

By Gil Cisneros and Wayne Trujillo

The Republican Party is all but announcing, “Party’s over, time to go home!” However, that poses a problem for many Hispanics. Where is home, other than the Democrat Party or Mexico? It has only been eight years since party leaders threw open the flaps of the past, inviting minorities and dissenting viewpoints into to their “Big Tent.” The GOP staged the 2000 Republican National Convention as a grand celebration of diversity and nominated a border state candidate for president who was popular with Hispanics.GOP politicians played some mighty infectious rhythms and rhymes. Although some Hispanics sang backup to the diversity message, literally dancing in the aisles at the convention, others at the time wanted to kick up their heels in fury rather than joy. They remembered the Republican-sponsored Proposition 187 in California that restricted and denied government assistance to illegal immigrants in 1994. But the GOP’s new millennium embrace of diversity reaped rewards and recruits. For several elections, increasing numbers of Hispanics crashed the party, helping push President Bush to victory in the 2004 election.

The exploding Hispanic population, along with their conservative values, led Republican strategists like Karl Rove to envision an electoral windfall. Hispanic population projections promised a perennial harvest at the polls for generations. Today, the prognosis for Hispanic affiliation with the Republican Party predicts an interminable drought.

Democratic presidential candidates are serenading Hispanic voters with unprecedented hosannas and outreach efforts, expedited after the bipartisan compromise on immigration reform flopped the first time in the Senate this year. Democratic candidates sense unrest among the ethnic group and are eager to win the votes of an energized Hispanic base in the 2008 primaries and general election.

Even though it’s a bitter realization, Hispanic Republicans realize why many Congressional members, having to face their most vocal constituents every two years at the voting booth, are myopic. They are reluctant to endanger their immediate personal and political interests. Why sacrifice power for pragmatics?

That reasoning is flawed and dangerous.

Some politicians continue to dismiss the burgeoning Hispanic population as largely illegal and without voting privileges. Both parties in the past bemoaned Hispanic absence from the polls, but today they actually have cause to fear their presence at the polls. With the exception of the Cuban-American population, Republicans historically dismissed Hispanics while Democrats assumed their indefinite allegiance. But California’s Proposition 187 startled both political parties. The Hispanic uproar enticed the ethnic group to storm the polls, and their participation in subsequent elections allowed Democrats to reclaim the governorship and monopolize California’s government for nearly a decade.

With Republican presidential candidates and Congressional members hedging or reversing positions on comprehensive immigration reform, not to mention outright opposing it as “amnesty,” Hispanic skepticism increases. The voices heard loudest by both the party’s candidates and mainstream media are the most shrill – the radical anti-immigration faction, one of whom equated illegal immigration to Satanism.

The far-right’s histrionics and hubris obscure rational dialogue and, sadly, the Republican leadership can’t hear the American majority’s opinions over the ruckus. Public opinion polls consistently show that the majority of Americans favor a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. While many Americans, perhaps even a majority, are concerned about border security and law enforcement, they also favor competent, compassionate and realistic action by their government, not partisan calculations.

Unfortunately, Republicans are the primary culprits, delaying action with posturing and pandering to the conservative base. The GOP’s big tent is nearly deserted and any refrains singing the praises of diversity and inclusiveness now sound like ghostly and empty promises from elections past. The Pink Elephant – or rather White Elephant – in the middle of the deserted Big Tent are the small but vocal band of extremists who will destroy the Republican Party, if need be, to destroy the dreams of millions.

Gil Cisneros is the President and CEO of Chamber of the Americas and Colorado State Chair, Republican National Hispanic Assembly.
Wayne Trujillo is a member of the Chamber of the Americas and Editorial Director of Latino SUAVE magazine.