GOP Speech Pushes Immigration Reform—in Spanish Version Only

What was the party’s official response to Obama’s State of the Union address? Depends on the audience.


On Tuesday night, freshman Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida delivered the Republicans’ Spanish-language response to President Obama’s State of the Union address. His remarks initially were billed as a translation of Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst‘s official GOP response. That put the GOP in an awkward spot, as Mother Jones first reported on Tuesday: Ernst has long been a proponent of making English the official language of US government communications.

In the end, Curbelo’s speech wasn’t an exact replication of Ernst’s. Whereas the senator relied upon numerous anecdotes of life in small town Iowa, Curbelo stuck to more general platitudes to open and close his speech. But when it came to policy, each largely followed the same script—Curbelo’s essentially used the same structure and rephrased the same talking points, albeit in a different language.

But there was also a conspicuous divergence: While Ernst’s speech included comments about abortion politics, Curbelo instead touted the need for immigration reform. “We should work through the appropriate channels to create permanent solutions to our immigration system, modernize legal immigration, and strengthen our economy,” he said, according to a translation by the Democratic opposition research firm American Bridge. From there, Curbelo went directly back into language also found in Ernst’s speech, saying: “In the past, the president has expressed support for ideas like these; now we ask him to collaborate with us to get it done.”

Similarly, Curbelo briefly touched on education reform and Cuba—two topics Ernst didn’t broach.

Ultimately, it’s not too surprising that Ernst included no mention of immigration reform. In the past she has said that she couldn’t support a bill that offered “amnesty” to undocumented workers.