GOP Dancing Around Immigration


This election season, the Republican party is trying to walk a fine line between attracting tea-party conservatives, many of whom are rabidly anti-illegal immigration, without alienating their committed Hispanic members. On Monday, conveniently 24 hours before major GOP primaries in Florida and Arizona, Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele told Univision that Arizona new immigration law SB 1070 doesn’t define the GOP.

Here’s an English transcript of the interview which was conducted in English, but broadcast in Spanish by Univision.

CMF: How do you say that Hispanics are relevant (important) for your party, when you just approved a law in Arizona against immigrants?

STEELE: Well, let’s be clear. The actions of one state’s governor is not a reflection of an entire country, nor is it a reflection of an entire political party. The governor and the people of Arizona made a decision that they thought was in their best interest, and that’s the beauty of a republic, that’s who we are.

CMF [Cutaway]: For Steele, the Arizona law against immigrants is not a reflection of our nation, and it is not a reflection of the Republican Party.

STEELE: We hope, now that this debate is in full bloom, level heads will prevail and that we’ll reach a common sense solution with regards to immigration.

Steele’s words felt hollow on Tuesday, as Republican primaries in Florida and Arizona were won by outspoken critics of illegal immigration and vigorous supporters of SB 1070.

Even so, some Hispanic Republicans who oppose SB 1070 took comfort in Steele’s statement, and insist Sen. John McCain (R-AZ),  remains a “folk hero” to Hispanics, despite his support of the law.  McCain came out in support of SB 1070 during his primary campaign.

But not all Hispanic Republicans are eager to forgive and forget.  In the Florida GOP gubernatorial primary, the two candidates seemed to be in a contest to see who could sound more anti-immigrant.  Less than 17 percent of Florida’s Miami-Dade Republican voters (the heart of the Cuban-exile community) cast ballots in the race between Bill McCollum and Rick Scott, compared to an overall 31% Republican turnout in the state.  Fernand Amandi, executive vice-president of the research firm Bendixen & Amandi told the Orlando Sentinel that most Cuban Republicans in Florida couldn’t bring themselves to choose either man.

In another instance of a high profile Republican trying to distance himself from the mainstream party rhetoric, Alberto R. Gonzales, former U.S. attorney general in the Bush Administration, wrote an op-ed piece in last Sunday’s Washington Post, taking issue with GOP members of Congress who are calling for a change to the 14th amendment to the Constitution in order to exclude the children of undocumented immigrants from obtaining birthright citizenship.

It’s usually Democrats who have difficulty holding together a hodgepodge of interest groups and constituencies.  Over the last decade, the Republican party has been much more successful at party discipline. Could immigration be the issue that fractures the GOP?

AboutSarah Kate Kramer
Sarah Kate Kramer first got hooked on collecting stories as a StoryCorps facilitator, then traveled the world with a microphone for a few years before settling down in her hometown of New York City. From 2010-2012 she was the editor of Feet in 2 Worlds and a freelance reporter for WNYC Radio, where she created “Niche Market,” a weekly segment that profiled specialty stores in New York. Sarah is now a producer at Radio Diaries, a non-profit that produces documentaries for NPR and other public radio outlets.