No one can blame Hispanic voters for feeling politically isolated. Both Democrats and Republicans have failed to connect with us. Twelve million Latino voters are in search of a candidate, but so far there is none to be found.
Barack Obama broke a key campaign promise. But Republicans are making an extraordinary effort to lose the Hispanic vote. If Republicans can't get at least 33% of that vote, they likely won't win the presidency back. Since Ronald Reagan, every single Republican candidate who has gotten more than a third of the Hispanic vote has won the election. And all polls suggest that Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich won't get close to that number by November.
Republicans seem set on losing the general election because they reject every reasonable immigration-reform proposal that comes their way. For the first time in a generation, the GOP will have a presidential candidate who does not support a path to citizenship for most undocumented residents. Reagan, Bush I, Bush II and McCain all did. Republican refusal to even consider the Dream Act for students, let alone comprehensive immigration reform, is a sure way to lose the fastest-growing voting bloc.
And yet, believe it or not, immigration is not the most important issue for Latinos. We are more concerned about jobs, education and affordable access to quality health care.
Still, the issues concerning undocumented immigrants are very, very personal. If you attack them, you attack us all. They are our neighbors and co-workers; their kids go to school with our kids; they serve in battle next to our sons; they take jobs no one else wants; they pay taxes and overwhelmingly make America a better country.
But let's start with the basics--some unsolicited advice for the candidates.
First of all, don't call them "illegals." Nobody is an "illegal" human being, and referring to them as illegal shows a double standard. You don't call the American companies that hire them "illegals." It's wrong. Words matter.
Second, nobody is buying Republican speeches about securing the border. The number of undocumented immigrants has decreased from 12 million to 11 million, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Cities and towns along the Mexican border are among the safest in the U.S. And who needs high fences when 4 out of 10 undocumented immigrants arrive by plane and simply overstay their visas?
And third, if your plan is to make America an inhospitable place for immigrants, as new laws have made Alabama and Arizona, wave goodbye to the Hispanic vote for good.
Republicans are missing a historic opportunity to get the Hispanic vote back. Latinos are very disillusioned with Obama because he broke a campaign promise. "What I can guarantee is that we will have, in the first year, an immigration bill that I strongly support," he told me in Denver on May 28, 2008. But he didn't deliver. Latinos call it La Promesa de Obama. He didn't keep his word.