Former Republican leaders seek to court Hispanics by formulating alternative immigration plan

As an inevitable vote on the Dream Act inches closer in the lame duck session of Congress, some Republicans are starting to realize the necessity of crafting an immigration plan of their own if they are to be taken seriously in their outreach to Hispanics.

The Miami Herald reports that former senator Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) is teaming up with former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida to form the Hispanic Leadership Network, which will hold its first meeting next month in Bush’s home state of Florida. The Herald also says that the effort will involve former U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.  Coleman, who lost to comedian turned Senator Al Franken in a tough recount election, has said that immigration reform will be a top item on the agenda of the leadership’s conference in January (even though no official platform will be released at that time).

Bush, like his brother, has had a pretty good track record with the Hispanic community and stands to be pretty influential if the movement gains any serious traction. Jeb’s own run for governor was no doubt due to the clout of his wife, who was born in Mexico. Bush was also able to win over moderate Hispanic voters during his run for governor in 1998. The governor also campaigned for his brother George, who was the last highest ranked Republican to have meaningful success at the ballot box with Hispanics.  

For all that it’s worth, the Republican Party can’t claim that they don’t have any help in crafting an immigration plan that enforces the law while not alienating the Hispanic constituency. The Heritage Foundation, the conservative public policy think tank on Capitol Hill, recently launched a website aimed at winning over Hispanic voters on the public policy front.  Libertad.org, as the site is named, is a Spanish language website that will convey a message of conservatism to this targeted constituency in their native language, the Heritage blog says. It aims to give the more conservative side of the argument to Hispanics in order to counter the Obama administration’s message to the demographic.

Despite the help and amped up effort from Heritage and former Republican leaders, the party has quite a hill to climb, going up against a well-orchestrated grassroots effort on the Democratic side.  One of the things emphasized throughout the fight for Democratically-supported immigration reform is mobilized support in local communities and even in local churches. Hispanic congressman Luis Gutierrez has spearheaded cross-country tours to get out their progressive message on immigration.

Conservatives might just have to take a page from their grassroots-organized Tea Party if they wish to maximize their immigration message. Just as the Tea Party started in communities like Chicago (of all places), as well as in towns all across the nation, then perhaps a well-organized grassroots effort on the immigration front would aid the Republican side.