The 2010 US census had some important things to teach us about our country’s Latino/Hispanic population. Basically, it’s growing, and it’s growing fast:
[T]he Hispanic population increased by 15.2 million between 2000 and 2010 and accounted for more than half of the total U.S. population increase of 27.3 million. Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population grew by 43 percent, or four times the nation’s 9.7 percent growth rate.
And no, they’re not primarily entering the country illegally:
Analysts [of the census] seized on data showing that the growth was propelled by a surge in births in the U.S., rather than immigration, pointing to a growing generational shift in which Hispanics continue to gain political clout and, by 2050, could make up a third of the U.S. population.
While the Latino population in the US is largely Catholic and evangelical and tends to be politically conservative on social issues, in 2008 Latinos voted for Obama by a two to one margin.
The GOP really needs the Latino vote if it is going to win in November (and beyond), though you wouldn’t know it by listening to the party’s presidential hopefuls. None of the candidates have done much to woo Latinos; instead their extreme rhetoric, particularly on immigration, has only served to further ostracize the Latino electorate. Romney won the Florida primary with strong Latino support, but should he be the party’s nominee in the fall, that victory might not mean much — the political motivations of Florida’s large (and highly influential) Cuban-American population is hardly representative of the US Latino population as a whole, especially in key swing states like Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona.
Fortunately (both for the GOP and for the sake of civility in the public square), there are Republicans who recognize the problem and are urging their colleagues to stop making matters worse. In an op-ed for the Washington Post (which I shared on January 27), former Florida governor Jeb Bush wrote:
[W]e need to think of immigration reform as an economic issue, not just a border security issue. Numerous polls show that Hispanics agree with Republicans on the necessity of a secure border and enforceable and fair immigration laws to reduce illegal immigration and strengthen legal immigration. Hispanics recognize that Democrats have failed to deliver on immigration reform, having chosen to spend their political capital on other priorities. Republicans should reengage on this issue and reframe it.
A second Florida Republican has spoken up as well. It’s up-and-coming Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American with strong support from his own demographic, but who also understands the broader issues impacting the country’s Latinos (and there’s been speculation that he could be a GOP running mate in November).
During his keynote address at the Hispanic Leadership Network’s conference in Miami just days before the Florida primary, Rubio was interrupted by DREAM Act supporters who had come in protest. Here’s the video of the speech, including the disruption and repeated pleas from Rubio for the protesters to be allowed to stay, followed by what I think is one of the most sensible articulations of the need for immigration reform I’ve heard from a Republican. I can’t say I vouch for Rubio on everything, but I do respect him for this:
[Photo credit: buschap/Flickr (Creative Commons) via SCPR.org]