WASHINGTON -- A non-partisan coalition of Latino groups laid out a platform Wednesday it says parties and politicians should adopt to win over the growing voter group.
For Republicans, that will be tough. The agenda includes support for comprehensive immigration reform, the Affordable Care Act and easier access to government services for Spanish-language speakers, along with opposition to voter ID laws -- all views that deviate sharply from the current GOP policy plan.
"We're non-partisan, but the extremism the Republican Party is reaching, on a number of issues but particularly on immigration, [is] totally unacceptable," said Hector Sanchez, chairman of the coalition and executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. "We're here as an aggressive coalition to say 'enough is enough.'"
The 30-group coalition, called the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, hopes to arrange meetings with presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney and other party leaders, along with President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders, to secure a promise to carry out the groups' ideas.
The platform is essentially the same as the coalition's previous agendas, but given the current immigration climate it's more important than ever, group members said at a press conference. They cited immigration laws like Arizona's S.B. 1070 as a major issue.
"These type of laws inevitably lead to racial profiling and unnecessarily strain relations between police and local Latino communities," said James Ferg-Cadima, regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund. "From our perspective, any of those proposals are non-starters."
Romney's hurting with Latino voters, with the most recent poll finding him earning the support of only 28 percent of them, compared to Obama's 63 percent. Given shifting demographics, the Latino vote is becoming more important each election cycle -- a fact the group plans to highlight in conversations with both parties -- and those figures could seriously damage Romney's chances in November. Some Republican strategists say a candidate needs about 40 percent of the Latino vote to win, and the Romney campaign's goal is 38 percent, the Hill reported on Wednesday.
The fact that Romney opposes many of the measures laid out by the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda may not be helping him with Latino voters, a majority of whom support those policies.
For example, the coalition stands squarely behind Obama's June 15 announcement that deferred action will be granted to some undocumented young people, which a June 17 poll found boosted enthusiasm for the president among Latino voters. Romney opposed that decision, but has refused repeatedly to say whether he would reverse it, a key question because he could do away with the policy at any time if elected.
Coalition leaders said they would push Romney to state clearly how we would handle the issue of deferred action.
"We'll be very aggressive to make sure we have an answer from the Romney campaign of 'yes' or 'no,'" Sanchez said. "There have been probably 10 interviews in which we cannot get an answer to a simple question."
The coalition wasn't fully positive toward Obama either, however, expressing disappointment with his administration's record number of deportations and failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform. "Both parties need to earn the Latino vote," Sanchez said.
But Hispanic leaders said organizers of the Democratic National Convention have been more receptive to their groups than those for the Republican one. Brent Wilkes, a co-chair of the coalition and executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said staffers at the Democratic National Convention reached out to offer event space and help with hotel reservation, something they hadn't done in previous years. Republicans didn't provide the same help, he said, but they seem to be making a larger effort this year than in the past to feature Latinos at the convention.
Wilkes said he's glad to see both parties paying more attention to Latino outreach in a positive way. But he pointed out that there are both upsides and downsides in the response to the increasing number of eligible Latino voters.
"The good part is yes, a lot more interest in the Latino vote," Wilkes said. "[But] with the growth of the Latino vote, there's also a growth of efforts trying to keep Latinos from voting."
Related on HuffPost:
The Template: California Proposition 187 (1994)
California's Proposition 187 was submitted to the voters with the full support of then Republican governor Pete Wilson. It essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state economy in the early 1990s. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. It also required state authorities to report anyone who they suspected was undocumented. <strong>Status:</strong> The law passed with the support of 55 percent of the voters in 1994 but declared unconstitutional 1997. The law was killed in 1999 when a new governor, Democrat Gray Davis, refused to appeal a judicial decision that struck down most of the law. Even though short-lived, the legislation paved the way for harsher immigration laws to come. On the other hand, the strong reaction from the Hispanic community and immigration advocates propelled a drive for naturalization of legal residents and created as many as one million new voters.
The Worst: Arizona SB 1070
The Arizona Act made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. This law has been widely criticized as xenophobic and for encouraging racial profiling. It requires state authorities to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there is "reasonable suspicion" that the individual is undocumented. The law would allow police to detain anyone who they believe was in the country illegally. <strong>Status:</strong> The law was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010. But it has generated a swirl of controversy and questions about its constitutionality. A federal judge issued a ruling that blocked what critics saw as some of the law's harshest provisions. House: 35-31 (4/12/2011)
Following Arizona's Footsteps: Georgia HB 87
The controversy over Arizona's immigration law was followed by heated debate over Georgia's own law. HB 87 required government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could prove their legal status. <strong>Status:</strong> Although a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law considered too extreme, it went into effect on July 1st. 2011. House: 113-56 Senate: 39-17
Verifying Authorized Workers: Pennsylvania HB 1502
This bill, which was approved in 2010, bans contractors and subcontractors employ undocumented workers from having state construction contracts. The bill also protects employees who report construction sites that hire illegal workers. To ensure that contractors hire legal workers, the law requires employers to use the identification verification system E-verify, based on a compilation of legally issued Social Security numbers. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved on June 8th 2010. House: 188-6 (07/08/2010) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey</a>
A Spin Off of Arizona: Utah HB 497
Many states tried to emulate Arizona's SB 1070 law. However, most state legislatures voted against the proposals. Utah's legislature managed to approve an immigration law based on a different argument. Taking into consideration the criticism of racial profiling in Arizona, Utah required ID cards for "guest workers" and their families. In order to get such a card workers must pay a fee and have clean records. The fees go up to $2,500 for immigrants who entered the country illegally and $1,000 for immigrants who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/06/nation/la-na-illegal-immigration-20110306" target="_hplink">according to the LA Times.</a> <strong>Status: </strong> Law went into effect on 03/15/2011 House: 59-15 (03/04/2011) Senate: 22-5 (03/04/2011)
The Most Comprehensive: Florida HB-1C
Florida's immigration law prohibits any restrictions on the enforcement of federal immigration law. It makes it unlawful for undocumented immigrants within the state to apply for work or work as an independent contractor. It forbids employers from hiring immigrants if they are aware of their illegal status and requires work applicants to go through the E-verify system in order to check their Social Security number. <strong>Status: </strong>effective since October 1st, 2010
The Hot Seat: Alabama HB 56
The new immigration law in Alabama is considered the toughest in the land, even harder than Arizona's SB 1070. It prohibits law enforcement officers from releasing an arrested person before his or her immigration status is determined. It does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive any state benefit, and prohibits them from enrolling in public colleges, applying for work or soliciting work in a public space. The law also prohibits landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants, and employers from hiring them. It requires residents to prove they are citizens before they become eligible to vote. The law asked every school in the state to submit an annual report with the number of presumed undocumented students, but this part, along with others, were suspended by federal courts. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved June 2nd, 2011 House: 73-28 (04/05/2011) Senate: 23-11 (05/05/2011) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/longislandwins/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by longislandwins</a>