Asset Bill opens up rift among Hispanic Republicans in Colorado

In 2010’s mid-term election, roughly 80 percent of Hispanic voters in Colorado voted for Democrat Michael Bennet for the U.S. Senate over Republican Ken Buck. Obama today is leading strongly among Hispanics.

While Colorado Hispanics tend to vote Democratic, Hispanic Republicans are active and vocal in the state. Recently, the Colorado Asset Bill, SB 15–which would give undocumented students who graduate high school in Colorado the chance to attend a state college at a tuition rate just a little higher than the standard in-state rate–has created a rift between two groups of Latino Republicans.

When Martin Mendez, chairman of the newly formed Colorado Hispanic Republicans, blasted the bill on the Mike Rosen show last week, the response from the more established Somos Republicans was swift and pointed.

Rosen started the conversation by saying that people are led to believe that all Hispanics think alike, and favor open borders. Mendez said Hispanics think for themselves and that his group is pro-business and opposed to big government. “We disagree among ourselves,” he noted somewhat prophetically.

Listen to the Rosen/Mendez exchange here.

He said he is not for open borders, but believes that borders have to be controlled. He said bills like SB 15 are merely a first step toward open borders. “If this passes, what is next?” he asked.

Somos, which has publicly supported the Asset Bill and the national DREAM Act for years, issued a rebuttal within hours of Mendez’s appearance on Rosen.

“Somos Republicans is in full support of the Colorado Asset Bill and the federal DREAM Act. Somos Republicans — the largest Hispanic Republican grassroots organization that grew exponentially and nationally due to our strong pro immigrant stance is blasting the Colorado Hispanic Republican (CHR) Chairman today,” the group said in a press release.

Steven Rodriguez, national vice president of Somos Republicans, said his group had 900 Colorado members, and noted that a recent Fox poll found that nearly 90 percent of Hispanics in the U.S. support the DREAM Act.

“It is a known fact that most Latinos are in support of legal and pro-immigrant friendly policies,” Somos said in the statement.

“Somos Republicans was the only Republican grassroots organization in the nation that took a strong stance against Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant SB 1070 law, and we will continue to oppose politicians who have supported harsh anti-immigrant laws and their policies moving forward,” the group said.

“I thought it was interesting that he would come out like that on such a heated issue,” Rodriguez, of Pueblo, said about Mendez.

Rodriguez said he and Somos prefer that the national DREAM Act becomes law, but while waiting for that, he said it is important that individual states take action.

Mendez said the Asset Bill would only benefit “about a hundred kids” in Colorado and that it is wrong for the many to pay in order for a few to benefit. He also objected to the bill on the grounds that there is no guarantee that students who take advantage of it will stay in Colorado. Like Rosen and most opponents of the bill, he said it would create an incentive for people to come into Colorado illegally.

Rodriguez said that the 13 states to pass similar bills so far have not seen any increase in illegal immigration.

Mendez also said the bill would create “false hope” on the part of undocumented students that they might one day achieve legal status in the United States. Both he and Rosen were very pointed in using the term “Illegal alien” instead of “undocumented” and Rosen went through a specific litany of reasons why he uses the term “illegal alien.”

For Mendez, at least part of the argument against SB 15 is personal. He said his father came to this country legally in 1956, from Mexico. “My father played by the rules. This is a slap in the face to all those who play by the rules. He stood in line and came in through the front door,” he said.

Mendez did not quickly return an email seeking further comment.

Rodriguez said the Asset Bill is a win-win situation, educating kids who are here anyway, at little or no real cost to taxpayers.

“We have to stand up and let it be known that Mendez does not speak for most Hispanic Republicans in Colorado. I don’t know if he speaks for the membership of his group, but he doesn’t speak for Hispanic Republicans generally. Not all Republicans are anti-immigrant.

“I’m afraid that the Republican Party is shooting itself in the foot on this issue. The arguments against educating the kids who grow up here are irrational,” Rodriguez said.

He said that about a quarter of Colorado voters are Hispanic and that a lot of them are young. “The Republican Party will be irrelevant soon unless we turn the tide.”

There are about 2.9 million registered voters in Colorado, about one million Republican, about 900,000 Democrat, and the rest unaffiliated. About 345,000 Hispanics are registered to vote in Colorado.

Rodriguez is a former Pueblo city councilman and ran for the Colorado legislature a few years ago. He said he is a Republican “because I agree with Republican values. I am pro-life. I support the opportunity to engage in business without too much government interference. I support religious freedom.

“This is the party of Lincoln and Reagan. They stood for those who could not stand for themselves. They knew that this is a nation of immigrants. Too many politicians, too many Republican leaders are concerned only about the next election. Statesmen–like Lincoln and Reagan–are concerned about the next generation,” Rodriguez said.

In its press release, Somos said its support for the DREAM Act and the Asset Bill are predicated on economics.

The DREAM Act legislation would encourage a younger group of people that would maintain our labor market needs, as well as help increase the small business ownership that immigrants often bring to our economy. Because higher education is a prerequisite, this group would support themselves in the labor market and avoid a growing dependence on government. We support measures that promote individual responsibility, not government entitlements.

Tax burdens will be shared with the people affected by the DREAM Act, and revenues would increase the tax base for state, federal, and local governments. According to the US Department of Commerce / Economics and Statistics Administration of the US Census Bureau, earnings increase with educational level ‒ and taxes increase when earnings increase. For instance, a single person who graduates with a Bachelor’s degree should make an average annual salary of $60,000 which is taxed at approximately $11,194 every year (2009 IRS Tax Rate Schedule).

Finally, they appeal to “compassionate conservatism.”

Children should not be punished for the “sins of their fathers.” Some people brought into the country illegally by their caretakers as young children have no idea they are not citizens until later on in life, because they were raised as Americans. Their loyalties are to the United States of America; they speak English well and have assimilated into American culture. Many hardly speak their parents’ language of origin and would not know how to function outside of the USA. This bill would prevent young people in this position who want to get higher education or serve the United States from being deported after receiving an American education.

“Obama didn’t deliver on big promises. In fact he’s been deporting millions. We have an opening to bring over Democratic Latinos this year. But I don’t think we’re going to do it. I think we’re gonna drop the ball,” Rodriguez told The Colorado Independent in a prior interview.

He said he cringes watching the Republican primary. He laughs with a mix of resignation and disbelief when describing how the race has made him question his own politics.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, there are just over a million Hispanics in Colorado, roughly 21 percent of the state’s population. They account, however, for only about 13 percent of registered voters, according to Pew. Obama defeated John McCain among Hispanics by a margin of about 61-38.

According to a spokesperson for the Colorado Democratic Party, there are about 345,000 Hispanic voters in the state, with about half registered as Democrats and about 15 percent registered as Republicans.

(Image of University of Colorado science building courtesy of University of Colorado)

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