The Latino Victory Fund, the political action arm of a high-profile group co-founded by actress Eva Longoria to help boost Hispanics in office, rescinded its backing Monday of a Virginia Republican because he opposes President Obama’s deportation amnesty.
Danny Vargas, a Republican running for a House of Delegates seat in Herndon, Virginia, said he wants to find a way to give most illegal immigrants legal status, but said Mr. Obama’s amnesty went beyond his powers.
The Latino Victory Fund, however, has made support for the Obama policy — which a federal appeals court has held is likely illegal — a litmus test, and stripped Mr. Vargas of backing, saying it regretted holding a fundraiser for him in June.
“Had we known this, we would not have hosted him,” said Cristobal J. Alex, president of LVF.
Mr. Vargas, a prominent Hispanic whom GOP leaders highlighted as part of their effort to field more minority candidates, says he suspects his Democratic opponent ginned up the controversy, hoping to dent the Republican in a very competitive district where Latino voters are an ever-increasing share of the population.
The caustic fight underscores the tensions Mr. Obama fostered after he announced his deportation amnesty last November, expanding a 2012 policy for so-called Dreamers to include as many as 4 million illegal immigrant parents.
Most Republicans, including Mr. Vargas, have said the move stretched Mr. Obama’s executive powers beyond the breaking point, and federal courts have said they’re probably right.
A court in Texas has halted the amnesty, and an appeals court has sustained that ruling.
But immigrant rights activists have defended the legality of the policy, and say given the stalemate in Congress on immigration legislation, executive action is not only appropriate, it’s necessary. They argue it should be a lens Latino voters use to decide whom to back in elections.
The Latino Victory Project, LVF’s nonpartisan parent organization, was co-founded in 2014 by actress Ms. Longoria and Henry R. Munoz III, a bundler for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.
Its goal is to boost Hispanics in elected office, and last week the Victory Project announced an ad attacking Republican candidates for their rhetoric on immigration.
Backing Mr. Vargas with the fundraiser this summer was seen as key bipartisan outreach for the group.
Earlier this year Mr. Alex rejected overtures seeking cooperation from another GOP-leaning organization, the LIBRE Initiative, run by former Bush administration official Daniel Garza, saying their disagreements over Mr. Obama’s executive actions were too much to overcome.
“Unfortunately, despite Daniel Garza’s claim that he would like to work with Latino Victory Project on this issue, LIBRE Initiative’s stances on this issue are unacceptable, and they do not represent the best interest of the Latino and immigrant communities,” Mr. Alex said.
Mr. Vargas told The Washington Times it was unfortunate the Victory Fund couldn’t find a way to work with him.
“I continue to believe that the majority of the folks at Latino Victory and I have shared values,” he said. “We may differ on particular issues, we may differ on particular strategies or tactics, but in terms of values, we share values.”
Mr. Vargas said he supports a path to legal status — though not a special path to citizenship — for some of the approximately 11 million immigrants in the country, and that he actually supports President Obama’s DACA program, which protects many young illegal immigrants, known commonly as Dreamers.
But he said Mr. Obama’s 2014 policy went beyond presidential prosecutorial discretion.
Mr. Vargas and the Victory Fund are also sparring over a campaign mailer Mr. Vargas sent that the group says is “misleading” and overstates the level of their support.
The flier says that “Republicans, Democrats, and Independents Agree: Danny Vargas is the Best Choice for Delegate.”
The flier also quotes from an NBC News story about the event LVF had for him and the headline of a Fox News Latino story: “Latino PAC founded by Democratic heavy-hitters backs its first GOP candidate [Danny Vargas].”
The Victory Fund disputed that it was backing Mr. Vargas.
“We have not and will not endorse him,” Mr. Alex said. “Furthermore, our co-founders, Henry R. Munoz III and Eva Longoria, are not involved in our endorsement process and were not involved in the event at our office.”
Mr. Vargas said he thought the campaign of his opponent, Democrat Jennifer Boysko, and Democrats in the state were behind the development.
“They can’t abide the notion that there’s actually a common-sense, solutions-oriented Republican running, particularly one of Hispanic descent,” Mr. Vargas said. “Because that sort of would destroy their narrative about Hispanics being completely monolithic in support of Democrats and their policies. And that’s a shame.”
A spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Virginia said that neither the DPVA nor the Boysko campaign sent the mailer to Latino Victory Fund and that the decision to rescind its support was an internal one.
Asked whether anyone at the Boysko campaign complained to anyone at LVF — or anyone else — about the flier, Boysko campaign manager Jesse Spodak said the matter is between LVF and Mr. Vargas and that Ms. Boysko’s campaign is focused on her message of improving schools and expanding economic opportunity in the district.