Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa: Republicans Will Block Immigration Reform

11/28/2012 04:47 pm ET

WASHINGTON -- Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, the first Latino to hold a party chairmanship in the state, said Tuesday that he doesn't expect Congress to pass immigration reform, even though he hopes it will.

"I think some leaders recognize that it has to be done, but I don't believe the Republican party is capable of taking moderate positions on any issue, particularly immigration," Hinojosa, who took over as chairman earlier this year, told HuffPost in an interview. "The House of Representatives won't be any more moderate than it is now. They're the ones who are going throw a monkey wrench in this whole process."

There is renewed interest in immigration reform after the 2012 election, when former GOP nominee Mitt Romney won the smallest portion of Latino voters of any presidential candidate since the 1996 election. President Barack Obama's support from Latinos was in part attributed to his policies on immigration, which ranks for most as an important issue.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other Republicans have said they will make immigration reform a priority next year. But they will likely face opposition from within the party, much of which supports some types of immigration reform but not a central tenet for Democrats: extending pathways to legal status, and then citizenship, to undocumented immigrants already in the country.

If Republicans block immigration reform, it will only help Democrats with Latino voters going forward, Hinojosa said, although that doesn't mean he wants it to fail. The GOP's stances on immigration, education and health care are all too extreme for most Latinos, and giving "more rope to the Republicans" on those issues will help turn Texas into a Democratic-leaning state, he said.

"The problem that Republicans have is that you can't do outreach in the Hispanic community and then at every step of the way try to keep them down," he said.

For now, Republicans have a solid hold on Texas, if not the Latino population there. Romney and Sen.-elect Ted Cruz, a Republican, each won 57 percent of the vote. These numbers didn't lead to an election victory for Romney, but they did for Cruz.

Hinojosa said he thinks that can change, particularly if the Democratic party focuses more on the growing Latino population. Some of his hopes are pinned on Julián and Joaquín Castro, who have recently begun to be considered rising stars in the party. Julián Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, may run for Texas governor in 2014, and Hinojosa expects Joaquín Castro to challenge Cruz in 2018.

A record number of Latinos voted nationwide in the 2012 election, and experts predict that turnout to steadily increase in coming years, possibly doubling by 2030. Texas had the second-highest number of Latinos in 2010 -- California has the highest number -- and they made up 38 percent of the state, according to a report from Pew Hispanic Center.

Democrats need to increase outreach if they want to get those voters to the polls, rather than considering Texas a lost cause, Hinojosa said.

"There's a lot of work that remains to be done in the state of Texas before it becomes a purple state, much less a blue state," he said. "But what happened in Texas was because of this belief that Texas was deep red and would be red for a long time, then there was no resources and have been no resources invested in the state of Texas. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Republicans have said they will expand outreach to Latinos, and they did in 2012. The party will likely continue to tout rising stars in their party who are also Latino, such as Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Hinojosa isn't impressed by the idea that those candidates could win Latinos simply on their last names.

"The word 'Hispanic' doesn't translate into 'stupid,'" he said.

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