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Samuel Rodriguez on the GOP's Latino dilemma

Evangelical leader talks about which Republican candidates can win the hearts of Hispanic voters, and why

Samuel Rodriguez Handout

Samuel Rodriguez on the GOP's Latino dilemma

Samuel Rodriguez founded the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, which claims more than 40,000 Latino evangelical churches as members. He’s also on the board of the National Association for Evangelicals and a fierce advocate for immigration reform. I had this conversation with him at the national conference of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention in early August in Nashville, Tenn.

Do you expect more Hispanic evangelicals to join the ranks of leadership in denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention and the Assemblies of God? It is inevitable that in the Southern Baptist community you will see more Hispanics, more African-Americans, and in other major evangelical denominations. It is the growing community, hence my angst on immigration reform. To me, immigration reform is not a political issue. It’s the very future of American evangelical Christendom, so that’s what moves me and compels me to address the issue of immigration reform.

What problem do you see with the current Republican position on immigration, and what do you advocate? The Republican Party commits political suicide every single election cycle since 2006, 2008, 2012, and now maybe possibly in 2016. It is political suicide. They suffer from a cultural and political myopia. This 60 million-plus demographic of Hispanics and Latino electorate really resonated with the Republican Party on issues of faith, family, entrepreneurship, and even to great degree, if you looked at, statistically, second and third generation, dependency on government, this idea of limited government. It’s the constituency that Ronald Reagan deemed as natural conservatives, natural people that embrace traditional values, and yet the Republican Party continues to alienate them via the conduit of spokespersons such as Donald Trump. … The Republicans must cross the Jordan of immigration reform if they are to step into the promised land of the Hispanic-American electorate. Until then, they will continue to go around in the desert of insignificancy as it pertains to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Close, but no cigar.

What position do you advocate? The right position is the following: Secure the borders, and secure the borders in a way that’s measurable. Engage infrared technology, satellite imaging. If we can read a license plate in Afghanistan from the sky, we should be able to read a thousand people crossing over the Rio Grande with backpacks. Let’s secure the borders.

No. 2 , let’s deport every single person here that is here illegally that is engaged in nefarious activity. No more sanctuary cities. No amnesty. Let’s get rid of the bad guys and the bad girls that are here in this country. But then let’s look at those, the vast majority, the 98 percent who have been here for over 10, 15, 20 years, whose children were born here. They were brought here at an early age. Who pay taxes, who are not dependent on government. They are not living off welfare. They are not subsidized by my tax dollar, but they’re hardworking individuals, who came here for a better life, and have demonstrated it via their Calvinist work ethic or their work motif. Let’s provide a pathway for integration for these individuals. It’s not even a guarantee of citizenship. It’s just, let’s integrate you. Let’s legalize you, and if you really want citizenship, go to the very back of the line, and earn that citizenship. That’s a viable solution to the immigration reform crisis in America.

How much support do you think a position like yours has among GOP presidential candidates, and how much support would it have among the Republican base? To be very forthright, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would agree wholeheartedly with my position. I don’t say that rhetorically. I have discussed this with Gov. Jeb Bush. … Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has a great heart in understanding that there is a solution out there that begins with securing the border that is not amnesty. I would argue Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, out of all the candidates currently out there—Lindsey Graham likewise—really have the most viable solution for the immigration reform crisis in America in a way that has a simultaneous political ramification of engaging the Hispanic-American electorate in favor of the GOP.

Rubio and Bush garnered the most support among evangelical insiders in a recent WORLD poll. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker came in third, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, came in fourth place. What do you think of the latter two candidates? Scott Walker is a governor from Wisconsin, and out of all the 50 states, [there’s] not a significant Latino community [there], so there’s a disconnect. … The way he stood up to the unions should be applauded and commended for his courage. Nevertheless, he’s not a name that even resonates with the Latino community. We do celebrate the candidacy of Ted Cruz. He’s a Latino, a Hispanic-American Christian whose father is a pastor. Amazing personal narrative, yet his rhetoric on immigration reform has alienated him from the Hispanic-American faith community. How about that? There are Hispanic-American conservatives who are troubled by the rhetoric that came and comes out of Ted Cruz as it pertains to immigration reform. Ted Cruz does not have it right on immigration reform. He has it right on life. He has it right on marriage, and limited government, and entrepreneurship, and personal liberties, but not on immigration reform.

Do you think Republicans will garner enough support from Hispanic communities in the upcoming election? I’ve heard it said that, for example, the Republicans don’t have to win 50 percent of the Hispanic community. I could tell you how much. They need at least 35 percent, 35 to 37 percent. Twenty-seven percent of Hispanics voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, and they need 35 percent. Let’s not forget here, 44 percent of Hispanics voted for George W. Bush in 2004—44 percent. I sat down with Karl Rove and had a conversation with Karl right after that election, and we talked about 50 percent of Hispanics voting Republican. But then 2006 came along. The [immigration] bill, the anti-immigration rhetoric, Pat Buchanan, Tom Tancredo, and the Republicans committed political suicide. … Hispanics supported Barack Obama. There’s only one Barack Obama. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Joe Biden are not Barack Obama. This is the utopia for the Republican conservative movement to re-engage the Latino community, but they must address immigration reform, and right now, again, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, and to a great degree, Mike Huckabee, just with a little push, a little nudge, represent the most viable alternatives for the Latino community, that Latinos can say, “Yeah, we like them. They believe what we believe.”

Listen to Warren Cole Smith’s full conversation with Samuel Rodriguez on Listening In.

Warren Cole Smith

Warren is the host of WORLD Radio’s Listening In. He previously served as WORLD’s vice president and associate publisher. He currently serves as president of MinistryWatch and has written or co-written several books, including Restoring All Things: God's Audacious Plan To Change the World Through Everyday People. Warren resides in Charlotte, N.C.



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