Carroll County Times

Tom Zirpoli: GOP blocking immigration reforms

In a South Carolina speech, Mitt Romney promised that he would veto President Barack Obama's DREAM Act that provides illegal immigrants a path to citizenship if they perform community service such as joining the military. One week later in Florida, where one out of four voters is Hispanic, Romney stated that he would sign the DREAM Act "if it were focused on military service."

Regardless of Romney's flip-flopping on immigration issues, depending upon which state he is currently campaigning in, I think it is safe to say that the likely Republican presidential nominee has sufficiently alienated a majority of Hispanic voters. Indeed, a poll by Fox News found that 40 percent of Latinos who voted for Sen. John McCain in 2008 now state that they will vote to re-elect Obama in 2012.

For some congressional candidates, this is not good news. "I am troubled by the demonization of immigrants, legal or illegal, in our party," said Republican Congressman Blake Farenthold, who represents a South Texas district. "We've got a country that was built on immigrants and immigration, and we've kind of lost sight of that."

Farenthold has a good reason to be concerned. His district has a growing Hispanic population. In fact, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, Hispanics accounted for 65 percent of the population growth in Texas since 2000 and now account for 38 percent of the state's total population.

People were surprised when Texas Governor and former presidential candidate Rick Perry advocated for educating children of illegal immigrants during one of the many GOP presidential debates. But Perry is the governor of a state where the majority of children are Hispanic. These children are the future of Texas. Educating them is good for the children and for the future economic development of Texas and our nation.

Of course, not everyone in the GOP cares about the growing Hispanic population. Not yet, anyway. When Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks was asked about illegal immigrants at a town meeting, he said, "As your congressman on the House floor, I will do anything short of shooting them."

Brooks may not be aware that the 10-year growth rate of Hispanics in Alabama is 145 percent. In fact, the growth of the Hispanic population is fastest in southern, Republican strongholds. The top five states with the fastest growing Hispanic population include, in order, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas.

Republicans in Alabama recently passed one of the most repressive immigration laws in the nation. As a result, farmers spent the past summer watching their crops die in the field because they could not find enough people to harvest them. And with thousands of people not around to pick the crops, related businesses felt the pain, too.

Responding to their concerns, Congressman Raul Labrador said, "More and more Republicans are saying that, yes, we need border enforcement, but we also need to create a guest-worker program that works at the same time."

Polls show Obama's policies on immigration reform are supported by a majority of voters, which is why Romney has been silent on specific actions he would propose in place of the DREAM Act. Even in his address last week at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials' Annual Conference, Romney criticized the president for the lack of progress on immigration reform, yet provided no proposals of his own.

In fact, Obama has been trying to secure an immigration reform bill, one that significantly improves the guest worker program. But Republicans killed the DREAM Act and continue to block reform because they would rather build fences than deal with the reality on the ground. Unfortunately for Congressman Farenthold in Texas, the fence they are building is between themselves and the growing number of Hispanic American voters.