For more than three decades, Republicans have regarded the growing number of family-centered, socially conservative Hispanics as natural targets in their quest to become a majority party.
But not anymore.
In deed and word, President Donald Trump and Texas Republican officials have essentially declared war on Hispanics, targeting their growing presence and burgeoning influence at a time the GOP is receiving dwindling national support from them.
The long-term political impact could be devastating for Republicans and damaging to America’s image as a beacon of liberty for all.
The latest step was Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement Tuesday that the administration is rescinding the protection from deportation for young people brought here illegally as children — unless Congress acts within six months. His announcement left the program’s 800,000 Dreamers, predominantly Latino, in exactly the legal limbo President Barack Obama’s 2012 action sought to prevent.
Despite Trump’s reiteration Tuesday of his “great love” for Dreamers, and a later tweet raising the prospect of revisiting the issue if Congress doesn’t act, the action fits a recent pattern: the president and his administration taking anti-Hispanic actions, while Texas Republicans press legislative and legal efforts aimed primarily at the state’s growing Hispanic population, both legal and illegal.
Here are the prime examples:
Texas Republicans continue to push measures that seem primarily designed to minimize the political clout of Hispanics through legislative and congressional redistricting plans, the nation’s strictest voter ID law, and a newly passed law aimed at so-called sanctuary cities.
Trump, meanwhile, gave the back of his hand to Arizona’s Hispanics by pardoning Joe Arpaio, the 85-year-old former Phoenix sheriff found guilty of contempt of court by a federal judge for refusing to stop detaining suspected unauthorized immigrants.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement service’s scatter-shot administration of Trump’s efforts to curb illegal immigration has gone beyond deporting the “bad hombres” the president vowed to expel. One result has been the totally unnecessary breakup of productive families by deporting Hispanics who, while initially here illegally, led positive, law-abiding lives.
While Sessions cited legal issues in refusing to extend Obama’s DACA program, Tuesday’s action broke a moral commitment by the government to productive people brought here as children and rejected America’s historic role as a place for immigrants to find freedom and a better life. Unless Congress acts, which recent history suggests remains highly questionable, rescinding DACA could cost many Dreamers their jobs and subject them to the vagaries of ICE’s administration.
Illegal immigration is a complicated issue, pitting those who favor full enforcement of laws against those who recognize the impossibility of deporting more than 11 million people. The bottom line is that reasonable choices must be made. But unlike Obama’s later expansion of protection, the courts have so far allowed DACA to proceed.
Trump was inconsistent during the campaign, from threatening to deport millions of unauthorized immigrants to saying he would target criminals and protect the Dreamers. His handling of the issue this week has been equally erratic. After Sessions sounded a hard line seemingly aimed at the GOP’s anti-immigration base, Trump telegraphed his personal ambivalence by suggesting he might act if Congress doesn’t.
In Texas, the state’s dominant Republicans have systematically sought for nearly a decade to reduce the potential political clout of the burgeoning Hispanic population — 37 percent of Texans today and projected to surpass 50 percent by 2050. In initially blocking the Texas voter ID law in 2012, the Obama Justice Department said Hispanics were almost twice as unlikely as non-Hispanics to lack required forms of identification. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos has twice ruled the Legislature’s intent was discriminatory.
Meanwhile, federal courts in Texas have repeatedly rejected legislative and congressional redistricting plans on grounds they shortchange Hispanics. Following the latest rejection, Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed to the Supreme Court, relying on its majority of Republican-nominated justices to uphold the Texas GOP position.
Meanwhile, another federal judge temporarily halted the Legislature’s latest anti-Hispanic action, a newly passed law requiring city officials to obey federal requests to hold undocumented workers.
To see the likely long-term impact, Republicans need only look to California. Since GOP Gov. Pete Wilson led a successful 1994 campaign to bar health and education services for unauthorized immigrants, a measure the courts subsequently blocked, only one Republican — movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger — has won major statewide office.
It may take some time, but Texas Republicans — and Trump’s GOP — are heading down that path.