Despite the mounting pressure (boycotts, legal challenges, protests) to repeal Arizona’s enforcement law (SB 1070), polls indicate that the majority of Americans support the law by almost two to one—and, at last count, as many as 17 other states are considering similar legislation. However, while it may seem advantageous for some in the GOP to use this anti-immigrant wave as political momentum for re-election, the long-term political impact may be larger and more harmful than they realize. Can the Republican Party (once the ‘Party of No,” then the “Party of Hell No” and now the “Party of Papers Please?”) really afford to further alienate the fastest-growing U.S. voting bloc—Latinos?

In a recent New York Times letter, the author draws a comparison between the Arizona’s enforcement law (SB 1070) and California’s 1994 anti-immigrant Proposition 187 (which was later found to be unconstitutional). Then Governor Pete Wilson supported Prop 187, which denied children of undocumented immigrants state-funded education and health programs. The author points out that California has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1992, and that Republicans won California in six of the previous seven presidential contests prior to 1992, and five of the seven most recent gubernatorial races. Coincidence?

“There are a lot of similarities between what’s happening in Arizona and what happened in California in 1994,” said Sergio Bendixen, a political pollster and consultant specializing in the Hispanic vote. “That made California a deep blue state,” or Democratic, “and Republicans are making the same mistake now trying to benefit on anti-immigration.”

It doesn’t take a political scientist or a pollster to understand what happens when you alienate such a large and growing swathe of the American electorate. Latinos—who not surprisingly oppose Arizona’s law (70% opposing, 27% supporting)—made up 7.4% of the electorate in 2008, which has roughly double in the last 20 years, and is expected to continue to grow.

The letter continues:

There is widespread resentment among Latinos that they will be singled out as a result of this law, despite the insistence of Arizona officials that racial profiling is impermissible … Previous and earlier surveys by Mr. Bendixen, the pollster, show that almost two in three Latino voters have either a family member or friend who is an undocumented worker …He says Hispanics resent the suggestion that immigrants are more prone to criminality, an allegation that is contradicted by the vast majority of academic studies and statistics.

Recent evidence of the Latino vote can be seen in places like Colorado, where Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet pulled ahead of GOP hopeful Jane Norton. According to Public Policy Polling, the shift is due to Hispanic voters:

Bennet went from leading Norton by 12 points with Hispanic voters to a 21 point advantage. That large shift in a Democratic direction among Hispanics mirrors what we saw in our Arizona Senate polling last month- Rodney Glassman went from trailing John McCain by 17 points with them in September to now holding a 17 point lead.

While Latinos’ cultural conservatism may overlap with Republicans’, it’s not likely that Latinos will forget 1) the Tea Party/Republican anti-immigrant rhetoric surrounding SB 1070; and 2) SB 1070 itself as well as ensuing copycat legislation. So, even though Republicans candidates who endorse SB 1070 (and similar legislation) might garner electoral support in the short-term, riding the anti-immigrant wave will more than likely drown them, and some in the Republican Party, out in the long-term.

Photo by Phil Gibbs.