Somos Republicans—a fledging Hispanic GOP group—is protesting the likely appointment of Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) and Steve King (R-Iowa) to leadership positions in the next Congress, criticizing them for promoting anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant positions. The group submitted “a letter of concern” on Tuesday to incoming House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor detailing their gripes with Smith, the likely chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and King, who’s poised to lead the subcommittee on immigration:
Congressmen Smith and King have repeatedly engaged in rhetoric that is aimed negatively toward Hispanics. Steve King has used defamatory language that is extremely offensive to Hispanics, which is found in numerous congressional records. We believe Steve King’s behavior is not appropriate for a high-level elected Republican who might be in charge of a committee that handles immigration rules. Steve King and Lamar Smith have adopted extreme positions on birthright citizenship, and promise legislation that would undermine the 14th amendment of the constitution, which both swore an oath to uphold…
Representatives Smith and King have engaged in an ill-advised platform and rhetoric that has…caused an exodus of Hispanic voters to the Democratic Party. We ask that you review Mr. King’s and Mr. Smith’s congressional statements desiring to “pass a bill out of the House to end the Constitution’s birthright citizenship for U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants,” or what Steve King has made reference to “anchor babies.” We find both this rhetoric and this un-constitutional conduct reprehensible, insulting and a poor reflection upon Republicans because we don’t want our Party to be viewed as the Party of changing the United States Constitution.
Somos Republicans adds that such anti-immigration extremism has helped drive Hispanics away from the GOP and would be a major political liability for the party in 2012:
[T]his insensitive and constant assailment on our Hispanic Community may push Hispanics further into the Independent, Libertarian or Democrat Party….It is our sincere belief that if representatives Smith and King were to become the Chairs of the House Judiciary and Subcommittee on Immigration, and if they indeed continue such insensitive rhetoric towards Hispanics, the conditions for a Republican presidential candidate to garner the necessary Electoral College Delegates to win the 2012 presidency will not be possible.
Both King and Smith have made it clear that they will push for a major immigration crackdown in the next Congress, as I explained this week. King has already vowed, for instance, to put forward a bill to prevent the children of illegal immigrants from becoming US citizens—a fringe idea that has gained renewed traction with the GOP’s leap to the right on immigration.
Somos Republicans is now trying to push back against the GOP’s reactionary turn. The group formed in Arizona after the passage of the state’s infamous immigration law in April and chapters have since opened in Texas, California, Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, says founder Dee Dee Blase. “We’ve grown exponentially because of these [Arizona-like] laws. It’s really causing us to mobilize and wake up, we’re upset with these kinds of anti-immigrant rhetoric politicians.” On its website, the organization describes itself as supporting “Right to Life, Free Market Capitalism, Low Taxes, Small Government, Second Amendment, Traditional Marriage, and a Humane Immigration Reform that fits our Free Market economy and labor.”
Blase says the group is also campaigning in support of the DREAM Act—which supports legalization for illegal immigrant students who have completed college or military service—and working to “stop the defamation of anchor babies,” she adds. But the overarching focus for the nascent organization is the 2012 elections. Blase says the group aims to use lobbying, grassroots organizing, and other forms to advocacy to help the Republican Party recapture some 40 percent of Hispanic voters—up from the average of 30 percent—with plans to form a political action committee as well. She points to George W. Bush as a role model of a Hispanic-friendly Republican, noting that he captured 44 percent of the community’s vote in 2004. But it’s unclear who will step up to the plate within the ranks of the current GOP.
And though a record number of Hispanic Republicans were elected to Congress this year, it’s still uncertain whether they’d become heroes to the Latino community. Blase, for instance, says that she’s still uncertain about where Marco Rubio stands on immigration and whether her group would support him, given his hedging on the issue on the campaign trail. And she warns that the GOP will be doomed in two years if its anti-immigrant fringe is allowed to dominate the debate: “If Boehner doesn’t take heed, we’re done.”