CPAC Illustrates the GOP Divide on Immigration

CPAC Illustrates the GOP Divide on Immigration


Immigration was a hot topic at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) yesterday, but there were clearly some divisions within the audience and the featured speakers.

For instance, Texas Governor Rick Perry, who called for finding a way for the GOP to appeal to more Latinos, was was greeted with boos from the crowd. During the 2011 the primary season, then GOP presidential candidate Perry found himself on the defensive in explaining why he supported in-state tuition for undocumentedstudents.

Congressman Raul Labrador of Idaho framed the immigration issue as an opportunity for Republicans, saying, “Republicans will not support any immigration reform without a vibrant guest-worker program.” Labrador has also previously gone on record saying that he opposes a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented.

Labrador and others at CPAC stated that big labor, a traditional Democratic constituency, opposes a guest-worker program. He and other panelists discussing immigration also noted that if immigration reform fails in this congressional session, they can blame President Obama and the Democrats for this because of big labor’s stance.

David Garza of the Libre Initiative and Jennifer Korn of the Hispanic Leadership Network  were both hopeful that there would be some sort of immigration bill that could get through Congress.

The Guardian even reported that while Korn indicated that while she does not like the term “pathway to citizenship,” she does think there needs to be a way for undocumented immigrants to get green cards.

Pollster Whit Ayres made his case for welcoming Latinos into the GOP more broadly and for supporting some form of immigration reform based on the nation’s changing demographics citing aging whites and youthful Latinos. He said, “We need a lot more allies in a lot of different places! Don’t you think that a group of incredibly family oriented, hardworking, churchgoing, entrepreneurial, spiritual people might be a good place to look for some more allies?”

And then there were tea party activist types like former Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona, who critiqued the first day’s panelists saying, “Let’s be honest, [the schedule] is loaded with amnesty and open border guys.”

While the tone and conversation at CPAC yesterday focused on immigration, data shows that beyond immigration reform, Latinos tend to align themselves based on policy preferences that fall in line with the Democrats even on issues such as environmental protections and taxes. If Latinos are largely supportive of a sitting President who has arguably been tough on immigration with record setting deportations, perhaps the needle won’t move too far in the direction of the GOP unless other policy positions are explored in terms of healthcare, education, climate change and gay rights.

Check out the full CPAC panel on immigration below: