What does a Cuban-American politician have in common with a Vulcan space traveler and the 37th president of the United States?
More than you'd think, according to Charles Garcia, a Panamanian-born, Miami-based businessman who argues on CNN.com that the Republican Senator from Florida, who is frequently mentioned as a vice presidential running mate for the eventual GOP presidential nominee, is uniquely positioned to bring his party to its senses on the hot-button issue of immigration reform. To make his case, Garcia invokes the words of none other than Star Trek's Mr. Spock, who in the sixth installment of the intergalactic movie series, compares Captain Kirk to Richard Nixon, the staunch anti-communist U.S, president who unexpectedly opened the door to normalized relations with China.
"Spock's point was that Captain Kirk, who was the most anti-Klingon adversary in the Federation, would actually prove to be the toughest--and most effective--negotiator in the peace accord with the Klingons," Garcia writes, implying that Rubio's adamant opposition to the Dream Act and amnesty for undocumented immigrants make him uniquely qualified to pull a Nixon on anti-immigration Klingons in the GOP. As Garcia notes, polls currently show Republicans lagging far behind the 35-40% of the Latino vote that most analysts say they need to win the presidency this fall.
How crafty of Garcia to invoke a sci-fi flick from 1991 to explain how Republicans could do a better job of connecting with Hispanic voters in 2012! It's certainly no coincidence that the subtitle of Star Trek VI is "The Undiscovered Country," perhaps a covert reference to the fact that the future of American politics belongs to native-born Latinos, who already make up more than 90% of all Hispanics under 18. But it would be more revealing -- and accurate -- to look for a Rubio analogy in the much more recent J.J. Abrams-directed Star Trek, in which Mr. Spock, who has left his home planet to make a new life on Earth, is torn between two worlds, and two competing versions of himself: one from the future and one from the past. The younger Mr. Spock is played by Zachary Quinto, an actor who is often mistaken for Hispanic, and has successfully portrayed ethnic characters on TV and film, but isn't.
Is Marco Rubio the Mr. Spock of Latino politics? Will Latinos vote for a Hispanic vice presidential candidate who does not share their immigration views? Can he move politically forward and backward at the same time? Already there are signs of an anti- Rubio backlash by the very constituents he claims to represent.
During the Florida Republican primary, the liberal political group, Presente Action, ran a one-minute ad that cites statistics showing that an overwhelming majority of Latinos are against Arizona's racial profiling law, followed by a clip of Rubio saying, "Arizona's going to do what's in the best interest of the people of Arizona. They have a right to do that, and I respect that." The ad goes on to show majorities of Latinos in support of legalization for undocumented workers and The Dream Act, which would allow undocumented youths to attend U.S. colleges, followed by clips of Rubio on the other side of the argument. A voiceover asks, "Since Marco Rubio doesn't stand with Latinos, why should Latinos stand with him?" The spot, which Presente Action co-founder Robert Lovato says could run nationally later this year, ends with the assertion "No somos Rubios!" -- a pointed double-entendre that also translates into English as "We are not blondes!"
Since then, Rubio has backed away from an incendiary anti-immigration stance, asserting that the GOP should be the party of legal immigration. But it's probably too little, too late. In order to legitimately claim the right to represent Latinos in the United States, Rubio needs to go much further than simply endorsing the Dream Act or lionizing affluent, acculturated Hispanics who no longer necessarily relate to--or care much about-- Latinos who are struggling to follow them up the soci-economic ladder. Republicans will never connect with mainstream Hispanic voters until they acknowledge not just the contributions that immigrants have already made to this country, but also their critical role in securing America's economic future.
A new report by the Brookings Institution based on U.S. Census data shows that in coming years the U.S. labor market will increasingly depend on immigrants and their children to replace aging baby boomers and fill new jobs. In 2010, immigrants already made up 16 percent of the labor force, despite the fact that they represent only 13 percent of the total population. Immigrants are overrepresented in eight of the nation's 15-fastest growing economic sectors, including food services, private households and construction to health care, high-tech manufacturing, and information technology. And the economic importance of immigrant and minority workers in the U.S. will only grow in coming years. "Our economy," the report states, "is dependant on immigrant labor now and for the future."
It's a no brainer that anyone who is against reasonable legal citizenship for immigrants or the lifting of draconian minority profiling laws is not just doing a disservice to Latinos, but also undermining America's best interests. That includes conservative Latino politicians who put nativist rhetoric ahead of Vulcan logic and human common sense.