- The Washington Times - Friday, February 19, 2010

A conservative group has begun a new initiative to bring Hispanics into their movement by emphasizing traditional social issues, but the fight over immigration may prove this to be a futile effort.

The American Principles Project announced this week its Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, a new initiative that will promote conservative values in the Hispanic community and attempt to persuade conservatives on immigration reform, opening doors to a possible untapped mass of support in the nation’s growing Hispanic community.

“We believe that it is time that the conservative movement proactively and intelligently reach out to Latinos, because we believe strongly that Latinos are conservative, that Latino values are conservative values,” said Alfonso Aguilar, a spokesman for the partnership.

Clarissa Martinez De Castro, the director of immigration and national campaigns at the National Council of La Raza, agreed that Hispanics are traditionally socially conservative and pro-family.

But she said the immigration issue is so important to Hispanic voters that conservatives, who generally oppose paths to citizenship and favor tighter border security, would have to clearly change their stances to have many more Hispanics vote for them.

Many Republicans “have used the issue in a way that has demonized the Latino community,” Ms. Martinez De Castro said.

Statistics appear to support Ms. Martinez De Castro’s statement that immigration is the biggest factor in Hispanic political sidings. A 2009 study by America’s Voice, an immigration reform organization, found that 82 percent of Hispanics said the immigration issue is “very important” or “somewhat important” to them and their families. Additionally, 69 percent said they personally know an undocumented immigrant.

But educating Hispanics on conservative political views is only half of the struggle, according to the Latino Partnership, which supports comprehensive immigration reform that legalizes undocumented immigrants, with a penalty for entering the country illegally.

The group said its initiative also would focus on educating conservatives about Hispanic values and immigration reform to achieve its goal, saying that people are angry with big government policies and the Hispanic vote is needed to see the conservative movement expand.

Mr. Aguilar was optimistic about conservative acceptance of immigration reform. He acknowledged that many conservatives may not come out in support of reform immediately but that as the Hispanic vote continues to increase, they will see the demographic necessity to back reform.

The U.S. Census Bureau in 2009 reported that the number of Hispanic voters increased by 2 million in the 2008 presidential election compared to the 2004 election, while the number of non-Hispanic white voters was not statistically different from 2004.

Although President George W. Bush’s plan for immigration reform was not highly regarded among Democrats or Republicans in 2007, Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and a member of the Latino Partnership’s board of advisers, said President Obama has yet to produce immigration reform legislation.

“We now have a Democratic president, an overwhelmingly Democratic Senate, an overwhelmingly Democratic House, and they’ve done nothing in the last year,” he said. “It was Republicans like [President] Reagan, that began, and Bush, which we said, that started to get a handle on coming up with a reasonable immigration policy that benefits the country.”