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TURNOUT: Republicans 'Need to Be Constructive' on Immigration to Engage Latinos, Says Alfonso Aguilar

First Posted: Nov 10, 2015 05:00 AM EST
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Alfonso Aguilar

Photo : American Principles Project

Latin Post presents "Turnout," a series that features leading politicians, government leaders and advocacy groups discussing and debating the most important issues facing the Latino voting bloc.
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According to Alfonso Aguilar, quoting President Ronald Reagan, "Latinos are Republicans. They just don't know it."

Aguilar is the executive director of the Latino Partnership program for the American Principles Projects (APP), an organization founded by a conservative commentator with the premise to build a conservative movement coalition, and he says Latinos are pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, entrepreneurial, and believe in school choice -- which are common Republican qualities.

Despite the similarities, Aguilar is candid to recognize, "Conservatives and Republicans have done a terrible job in engaging Latinos. We need to show up. I think when you look at polling, it shows that Latinos identify -- the majority -- as independent. They are voting for Democrats because Republicans are doing a terrible job engaging them. Their positions on immigration are generally not very good, to say the least."

Aguilar explained to Latin Post there was a need to create an organization that defended principals but also engage directly to Latinos and explain why conservative ideals are the values of the Latino community. At the same time, he acknowledged that the engagement is not exclusive to outreach but also engaging and educating the conservative movement about Latinos and their aspirations.

"Latinos are not natural born liberals or natural born Democrats, but a lot of Republicans believe that. It's about educating the conservative movement so they open up to the Latino community," Aguilar said.

Aguilar said Democrats and liberal organizations have had "exclusive contact" with the Latino community due to the belief that Republicans are anti-Latino and against immigration reform.

"They just don't know the philosophy that conservatives believe in," Aguilar said.

While Latinos are not a monolithic community, Aguilar said one issues has united them: immigration. Identifying immigration as a "gateway issue," Aguilar said Republicans and conservatives need to be constructive on the issue or else Latinos will not respond. He said he has been working with congressional Republicans "to open up to immigration," but knows it is a challenge. Nonetheless, Aguilar said he believes the majority of congressional Republicans want to address immigration but they are afraid.

"They are afraid -- afraid of conservative talk show hosts; they are afraid of being primaried. We try to give them the arguments, the political cover to be able to say, 'I'm conservative and I'm for immigration,'" said Aguilar, adding there is a conservative alternative that both recognizes the rule of law and welcomes immigrants as a positive to the economy and middle class. He said immigrants are taking jobs that Americans do not want, filling "niche" jobs and creating jobs that do benefit American workers.

In the end, Aguilar says immigration reform is going to happen because of Latinos voting, which will send a clear message to both major political parties that they will only support candidates who are constructive on the issue. He said if Republicans do overcome the immigration debate, they have an opportunity to become competitive for the Latino vote.

Aguilar said Congress is not at a point to offer a pathway to citizenship, but Republicans are talking about providing a path to legal status. He clarified that it doesn't mean they want to close the door to citizenship, but it means the legal immigrant would then have to follow the standard guidelines, set by U.S. law, to seek citizenship.

The immigration debate is also an impediment for Democrats. The APP Latino Partnership executive director said when Hillary Clinton spoke about going beyond President Barack Obama's immigration executive actions, the former secretary of state is "telegraphing" a message that she is not going to work with Congress.

"I think a vote for Hillary Clinton is really a vote against immigration reform," Aguilar said.

"Because she's not going to make it happen. To pass immigration reform, and that's the only way to resolve the situation for the undocumented, is to get them a path to legal status; for that, you need a consensus between Republicans and Democrats. You need a president who's willing to work with Democrats and Republicans."

Aguilar mentioned Clinton's immigration stance included the call for the expedited removal of unaccompanied undocumented children during summer 2014 and opposition for states to grant driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. As Latin Post reported, in regards to the driver's license topic, Clinton's campaign said, "The immigration landscape of 2015 is far different from the immigration landscape of 2007, so of course the policy responses are different."

Aguilar credited fellow Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders for being honest in admitting his opposition to the 2007 Senate comprehensive immigration reform, citing immigrants would have lowered American workers' wages.

Aguilar said the Democrats' talking point that all Republican presidential candidates have the same immigration stance as Donald Trump is not true. If Trump becomes the Republican presidential nominee, or someone that is not constructive on immigration, Republicans will lose the election. He identified former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and even retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson as Republican candidates as providing constructive ideas for immigration.

"I think that Latinos have to be smart in terms of who they vote for, because both parties have used immigration for political gain," Aguilar said.

Aguilar said the Democrats want Trump to win the Republican nomination. He said Clinton and Sanders will win the presidential election if Trump's name is on the ballot.

"But if it's someone like Jeb Bush, they [the Democrats] have a problem," Aguilar said.

In regards to Rubio's stance on immigration, especially after the 2013 bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform legislation, known as the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act" (S. 744), Aguilar said the bill, from the start, was recognized as "flawed," but it needed support due to Democrats then-controlling the Senate and said the House would have had to fix it. He said Rubio was not enamored with S. 744, but felt it was necessary to have the immigration debate going.

"Having said that, I think his commitment is still there for immigration reform, one that includes legalization, even a path to citizenship. ... I think lately he's been a bit vague in his responses. I think he needs to clarify. I don't doubt that he's committed to immigration reform, one that includes legalization," said Aguilar.

Aguilar opposes Trump, but when asked about Trump's support from voters, he said it comes from a "significant minority." Aguilar said Trump's popularity, and rise in the polls, has capped, as those against immigration reform do not surpass 30 percent.

"I would be more concerned with [Ted] Cruz. I think Cruz actually has an operation. He's a more serious candidate. A lot of those voters that support Trump may actually end up going to Cruz," Aguilar said, adding that he's still waiting on Cruz to "flesh out" some of his position on border security and when to bring people "out of the shadows."

"I think right now, it'll be very hard for him, with the positions that he has taken on the issue, to win the general election."

At this point, Aguilar expects Republicans to maintain control of the House of Representatives, and it will be hard for Democrats to reclaim the Senate. If Republicans keep control of Congress, Aguilar said the only way to achieve immigration reform is with a pro-immigration Republican president.

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For the latest updates, follow Latin Post's Politics Editor Michael Oleaga on Twitter: @EditorMikeO or contact via email: m.oleaga@latinpost.com.

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