11/13/2012 11:40 am ET Updated Jan 13, 2013

GOP Talks About Immigration Reform But Will It Change Its Tone?

We made history. After all the doubts and questions about Latino voter turnout, the fastest-growing minority group in the country squashed all hearsay and pundit-talk in record numbers, carrying President Obama to reelection and giving other Democratic candidates the push they needed.
Now, we are hearing a wave of chatter from conservative GOP figureheads and like-minded company calling out their party on the subject of Latinos and immigration. Time to change their hardline approach to America's immigrants and push for immigration reform, they say. Suddenly they are "immigrants," not just illegals. Perhaps sanity is breaking out.
As much as I enjoy the recognition of the Latino community's political clout and the angst-ridden epiphanies of the conservative punditry class, the right-wing is still stumbling in the dark despite the bright lights at the end of the tunnel. The point Latino voters made this year wasn't just that we need immigration reform, but that tone and tokenism are factors that can make or break the vote.
Mitt Romney and his team lost the Latino vote largely due to their tone deaf approach to a community that was closely listening in both English and Spanish. Here was a candidate half-heartedly trying to garner the Latino vote by justifying "self-deportation," promising to veto the DREAM Act and the Affordable Care Act, and dismissing 47 percent of the American population.  But it was okay because as long as they had Marco Rubio on stage and Craig Romney speaking Spanish, somehow Latinos would see that they were understood.
It's this type of cringe-worthy rhetoric and belief that ignores the identity and roots of a Latino -- an American who lived or empathizes with the immigration plight, who knows that he or she is a valuable asset to the working middle-class and who's not looking for a handout or just any job, but opportunities to move up in life and contribute to our country.    
Of course, Romney was never alone. Remember the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee hearings last year that tried to shamefully pit ethnic groups against each other and divide immigrants even amongst themselves using the wars of status?  And who can forget how Republicans on the ground, such as Governors Rick Scott of Florida and Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, continued their assault on Latinos and other minorities by trying to suppress their votes with targeted laws.
But Latinos firmly and proudly voted in record numbers against this ugly politics.
Now, a few GOP members have the audacity to say "I told you so," like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). The senator told Politico that his party needs to change its approach on immigration and cut a deal. By this weekend, he and Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Schumer, (D-N.Y.) were talking about working on solutions.

We welcome Sen. Graham back to the fight.
The test will be on his party and its voices of intolerance, those who fail to truly listen to the Latino community, and who are the image of the GOP in the minds of Latinos.

If we are to move forward together, the GOP must disown the hateful rhetoric and extreme policy proposals of conservatives like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), whose many insults towards immigrants include comparing immigrants to dogs, or Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and her favorite sheriff, Joe Arpaio, whose disgraceful policies towards Latinos and immigrants did not stop recent GOP presidential candidates from seeking their endorsements.

The GOP can no longer hang on two tones, one of apparent understanding of the problems of our immigration system and another that sees immigrants as an unfair burden. The party needs to not only work with us to fix the immigration problem but also change its tone if it wants to remain a viable political party.
More than 70 percent of the Latino vote went to President Obama and Democratic candidates in Senate and House races because they weren't trying to fight the influence of their vote and who they represented. If this election teaches America anything, it's that we are here, listening, ready to talk and take names. First up, true, common sense immigration reform.