Filed Under:

Will Tough Talk On Immigration Repel Latino Voters?

Play associated audio
Former Texas Governor and GOP Presidential Candidate Rick Perry is walking a tight line between conservative immigration policies and Republican hispanic voters.
Gage Skidmore (
Former Texas Governor and GOP Presidential Candidate Rick Perry is walking a tight line between conservative immigration policies and Republican hispanic voters.

Wherever he goes, GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry proudly waves the flag of conservatism, often introducing himself with, "I simply want to get America working again and make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as I can."

But the Texas governor, a favorite of conservatives overall, is taking criticism for being too moderate when it comes to immigration. The reason: In 2001, his first full year in office, he signed legislation that grants in-state tuition rates at Texas colleges and universities to some illegal immigrants.

He was forced to defend that move at last week's CNN/Tea Party-sponsored debate in Tampa.

"If you are working and pursuing citizenship in the state of Texas, you pay in-state tuition there. And the bottom line is it doesn't make any difference what the sound of your last name is," he said. "That is the American way."

Perry's answer prompted boos from Tea Party activists in the audience.

Opponents On The Offensive

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann compared Perry's Texas immigration policy to the federal DREAM Act, which is supported by the White House. That proposal would provide a path to legal U.S. residency for people who arrived in the U.S. illegally as minors and who meet certain conditions.

And there was this from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum: "What Gov. Perry's done is he provided in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. Maybe that was an attempt to attract the illegal vote — I mean, the Latino voters."

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, considered the moderate among the top-tier GOP contenders, has also joined the attack.

While Perry does call for a much stronger federal presence patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border, he opposes building a wall. Romney calls for a high-tech fence to be built, and he says, "As governor, I vetoed legislation that would have provided in-state tuition breaks to illegal immigrants, and I strengthened the authority of our state troopers to enforce existing immigration laws."

Focus On Latino Voters

Perry's outreach to Latinos includes a meeting behind closed doors with Hispanic business leaders Monday in New York City.

Among Latino voters, Democrats enjoy a tremendous edge. Mindful of that, the independent group American Crossroads, founded by former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove, has run Spanish-language ads that keep the focus solely on President Obama and the economy.

The message is about the impact the bad economy and the president's policies have had on Latino families.

Such ads are a recognition that tough talk on immigration now can hurt the GOP nominee come the general election. But Matt Barreto, a Latino political analyst at the University of Washington, says even a focused economic message is still a very tough sell for Republicans with this group of voters.

"When we ask in our polling ... we find consistently that Latino voters tell us that they trust Obama and the Democrats at much higher rates, almost 3-1, than they do Republicans on fixing the economy," he says. "When we go back to the Bush tax cuts, which President Obama extended, we found that Latino voters were opposed to that. They said they should have let them expire."

But Roberto Suro of the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California says the GOP goal is to discourage Latino voters who once supported Obama. He says they may not vote Republican, but you might get them to stay home.

"If you can move a fairly small percentage of Latino voters in the right places, you can have a big difference in the electoral college outcomes," Suro says.

Look at New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada, he says — all states that Obama carried in 2008, but also places where President Bush won four years earlier. Each has a big Latino population.

If Obama's total among those voters falls off significantly, that could be the difference between winning re-election or not.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

WAMU 88.5

The Music And Legacy Of Motown

Motown founder Berry Gordy and director Charles Randolph-Wright of “Motown the Musical" join Diane for a conversation about the history of Detroit's famous sound.

WAMU 88.5

Will Montgomery County Go "Bottoms Up" On Liquor Laws?

Since Prohibition, Montgomery County has held the purse strings on liquor sales, meaning the county sells every drink from beer to bourbon to local bars and restaurants. But local business owners are pushing back from this system, claiming it lacks efficiency and leaves customers waiting. County officials say they are holding out for alternatives that protect those within the industry. We discuss both sides of the issue today.

WAMU 88.5

Exelon's Chief Strategy Officer On Its Proposed Takeover Of Pepco

Kojo chats with Exelon's chief strategy officer about the company's vision for electric service in the Washington region, and its argument for why its acquisition of Pepco is in the best interest of customers.

WAMU 88.5

Computer Guys And Gal

Another year is coming to a close and the Computer Guys And Gal are here to discuss this year's biggest technology news, including the growth of virtual reality and the "Internet of Things."

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.