Early into today's Latino Town Hall event, Tom Del Baccaro, the chairman of the California Republican Party, stood in the center of a room full of Latino Republicans and asked them to raise their hands if they supported border patrol.
Nearly every hand in the room went up.
“The majority of Latino voters support border patrol,” said Del Baccaro. “There is a humanitarian issue on our borders. They use human beings as drug mules. If this was happening in a border in Africa, we would send the UN in and provide relief.”
The increasingly controversial issue of immigration reform sparked a passionate town hall-style discussion inside a packed Burlingame Hyatt room at the California GOP Convention; a discussion that amounted to Latino Republican leaders attempting to remove the party’s label of anti-Latino.
“The media has a lot to do with it,” said Mario Rodriguez, the vice-chair of the California Republican Party. “We have allowed the Democrats to define what a Latino voter is.”
Moderated by Santiago Lucero, host of the Voz y Voto program on Univision Sacramento, five chosen Latino Republican leaders answered questions about immigration, education, jobs, and the growing number of Latinos holding political office, and pushed for Latino Republicans to re-brand the image of Latino voters.
“Do not run on a label,” Del Baccaro said. “You have to have a practical policy that’s going to have a solution to people’s lives. Ronald Reagan didn’t go around saying ‘I’m a conservative, vote for me!’ He had real solutions to real problems.”
Luis Alvarado, chapter chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, said there is a media portrayal of Republicans being anti-Latino and wealthy that is contrary to the reality of how the party thinks; a portrayal that has served as a detriment as Republicans seek to increase its Latino base.
But Alvarado remains confident that Hispanics will vote Republican if given a proper reason.
For Francisco Loayza, the leader of the UC Berkeley College Republicans, the answers for Latinos can be found by looking back through history at what leaders have helped Latino’s the most.
“Just point to history” said Loayza. “What has Obama done for Latinos? What did Clinton do? Nobody talks about that. Who’s the last person who passed immigration reform? Ronald Reagan. Bush appointed more Latinos than anybody else. Nobody talks about that. Just point to history.”
Switching focus to education, Lucero asked a question emailed to him that asked why Republicans failed to endorse the DREAM Act – an acronym for development, relief, and Education for Alien Minors – a piece of legislation introduced by Democrats that would provide permanent residence for illegal alien youth so they could receive an education.
Republicans refuted the bill as a gimmick and political ploy by Democrats who they inferred have no vested interest in the betterment of Latino youth.
“This is a quintessential political move by the Democrats,” Del Bacarro said. What about the shattered dreams of the 60 percent of Latinos in Los Angeles who dropped out of high school? Why are they creating a program for citizens not in our country, when the Latinos and African Americans in L.A. can’t get an education in the schools they’re already in.”
An audience member who gave only his first name of Arturo, chimed in, and asked what purpose an education would serve an immigrant who’s citizenship would remain the same, and therefore, be ineligible for a job.
“This issue is so controversial, because everybody’s hurting,” said Michelle Rivas, a board member of the Twin Rivers Unified School District. “Families are hurting financially, so when it’s portrayed that some kids are getting preferential treatment, it upsets some. We should help kids if they’re eligible to go to school because I don’t believe they want special treatment, just equal access.”
Miryam Barajas, the California Republican Party deputy finance director, took the opportunity to emphasize the importance of electing more Latino Republicans.
She said once a Latino sees another Latino sitting on a school board with the title of Republican, and sees that elected official is fighting for the children, it will encourage others to do the same.
“The bottom line is this,” said Del Baccaro after nearly an hour of conversation. “Most Latinos came here to escape poverty and escape government. And now our government is prohibiting them from getting an education and allowing them to prosper.”