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Leo Pierson Headshot

What's Romney's (Hispanic) Problem?

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Two weeks ago I gave an invited talk about my work in immigration politics and policy to students at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. In light of the fact that Ohio's fastest growing demographic is the Hispanic community, and in anticipation of Super Tuesday, the discussion moderator asked a question centered on Mitt Romney's strained relationship with the Hispanic community--what the media machine has termed an "Hispanic Problem".

Even as he outspent his closest rival by 4-1 to claim victory in the Buckeye State, Romney barely eked out a 1% victory (no pun intended). This indicates that Republican Hispanics did not turn out to support him. One has to ask then: where did it all go so wrong?

Well, first there was the whole debacle leading up to the Iowa caucuses. Mitt flatly stated that as President, if it reached his desk, he "would veto the DREAM Act." More than 80% of Hispanics nationwide support the DREAM Act. Oops! If Mitt Romney was looking to make inroads with the Hispanic community, this was not the best way to begin.

Then came the SC primary where Mitt courted and gleefully accepted the endorsement of none other than Kris Kobach, notorious White nationalist author of the AZ, AL, GA and SC anti-immigration (read anti-Hispanic) laws. Fallout: the Hispanic twitter-verse and blogosphere erupted in outrage at news of the endorsement.

I was one of many who had hoped that Romney's tune would change upon arriving in Florida. Unfortunately, no doubt having received his marching orders from Kobach, Romney rolled out his euphemistically named "self deportation" proposal. In other words, Mitt Romney is in favor of making life so miserably unlivable for Hispanics--documented and undocumented alike--that we see no other viable option but to move from the jurisdictions in which we currently live, to return "home".

The actual effects of such laws are manifold. Alabama, for example, is one of the nation's most impoverished states. Still, according to a recent study by the University of Alabama, it has managed to lose roughly $11 billion dollars in revenue and has arrested two foreign--though legally present--auto industry executives since Governor Bentley signed their "self deportation" bill only months ago.

Bien hecho, Alabama!

While folks like Kobach and Romney continue to live in a state of denial, not one academically rigorous study indicates that these policies cause undocumented immigrants to "self deport" back to their countries of origin. In truth, except for the tiny hiccup of a fact that some policy makers actually take these legislative proposals seriously, the entire idea of "self deportation" is so mythical as to be entirely laughable.

But regrettably, ever since Florida, Mitt Romney has bumbles from town to town, peddling Kobach's snake oils in an attempt to nail down his anti-immigrant bona fides. Romney finally scored huge "I'm-the-real-deal" points in the ArZ debate when CNN's John King asked if immigration policy should center on the draconian example set by Maricopa Co.'s Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Even though a robust 74% of our nation's Hispanic population opposes the paradigm, Romney responded, "You know, I think you see a model here in Arizona."

While that statement didn't do much for Romney's pro-Hispanic credentials, it was apparently an anti-immigrant winning ticket. By the following Sunday morning on Meet the Press, Mitt was basking in the glory of the ultimate of all anti-immigrant endorsements: Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer. If a Brewer endorsement doesn't give Mitt Romney the anti-immigrant street cred he's been so vigorously cultivating, I'm not sure what will.

It is commonly held wisdom that Mitt Romney cannot win the general election without the Hispanic constituency. But for some reason, against the better judgment of Republican leaders like Mel Martinez, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, he continues to make every effort to alienate Hispanics everywhere along the campaign trail. Headlines recently exploded over news that even Hispanic Mormons have begun to turn against the Presidential candidate. They do so because they "believe Romney has betrayed a basic Mormon belief of protecting immigrants."

As I told the law students at the University of Cincinnati, Mitt Romney may win the Republican primary contest, but he will forever look back on his immigration politics with sad regret because at the end of the race, when he's alone in his thoughts, reflecting on how things went so wrong and at whom to point his finger to say, "This is all your fault!" He will have nobody to blame but himself, and as I outline above, his entirely self-created Hispanic Problem.

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