Latino Partnership Alfonso Aguilar

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Executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles explains why the Republican Party is a natural fit for Latinos.

Alfonso Aguilar is executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. He was the first chief of the U.S. Office of Citizenship, where he led the successful effort to redesign the U.S. naturalization test and promoted immigrants' integration into American civic culture. Aguilar served in numerous government positions in the Bush administration and the government of his native Puerto Rico. He holds a B.A. from Notre Dame and a J.D. from the University of Puerto Rico.


Tavis: Alfonso Aguilar is the executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles who previously served as the head of the U.S. Office of Citizenship under President Bush. Alfonso Aguilar, good to have you on the program.
Alfonso Aguilar: Tavis, a pleasure to be with you.
Tavis: Thank you for coming in. Let me start with this, because I think this will help frame our conversation a little better. You believe that the Republican Party, the GOP, is a natural fit, even now, for Hispanic voters. I don’t quite get that, so explain it to me.
Aguilar: Well, I think that Hispanics are inherently conservative. Latinos are pro-life; they believe in traditional marriage, they are very entrepreneurial. Hispanic businesses are growing three times as fast as the national average.
So Ronald Reagan used to say Latinos are conservative, they just don’t know it. I think the Republican Party has done an awful job in reach out to Latinos. So they have these values, but they vote for the Democratic Party, and they vote for the Democratic Party because historically, Democrats have reached out to Latinos.
They think of John F. Kennedy, they think of Bobby Kennedy campaigning and doing work with Cesar Chavez, so traditionally they feel comfortable with the Democratic Party. But there’s a divide, there’s a gap there between their values and the Democratic Party. They just don’t know it.
So what we need to do is reach out to them, explain that they would feel more comfortable with our party. Obviously, that takes – what we have to do is also reach out to the Republican Party and to the conservative establishment and educate them about the values and aspirations of Latinos so they understand that they’re not liberal but actually very conservative.
Tavis: See, here’s what I don’t get, respectfully. The Republican Party can sell, sell, sell all day long, they can focus millions of dollars on a campaign to reach out to Hispanic voters, and the only problem I have with the Ronald Reagan statement that Latinos are conservative, they just don’t know it, it’s as if they’re ignorant, as if they don’t understand what’s important to them.
Latinos, Hispanics, understand where they stand on this immigration debate and so the party could sell all day long, trying to pull them in all day long. This ain’t a values question, this is an issues question, and on the issues, the party is wrong, and that’s why they’re not getting Hispanic votes, yes?
Aguilar: Well, not really. The thing is that the problem with the immigration debate is that it’s oversimplified. The media, I think, has simplified this issue, trying to say Republicans are anti-immigration and anti-Hispanic, Democrats are pro-immigration.
Well, at the same time, Latinos are not happy with many Republicans making outrageous statements. Support for Barack Obama among Latinos has gone down dramatically since the beginning of the year. You’re absolutely right, Latinos are very independent. What Ronald Reagan tried to say is that we need to reach out to them to explain our views because they don’t understand, sometimes, where Republicans stand. That’s what’s happening right now.
Tavis: Yeah, but on this particular issue, Alfonso, the Hispanic community and all the rest of us, for that matter, we do know where Republicans stand on this issue.
Aguilar: No. Who was the last president to push for comprehensive immigration reform? It was George W. Bush, and he not only talked to Hispanics about it but he spoke to the entire nation. Remember he spoke from the Oval Office to all Americans about the need for comprehensive reform. In fact, the term “comprehensive reform” comes from the Bush years.
Tavis: I agree on that point, but Bush is no longer in office. John McCain is. John McCain stood where Bush stood a few years ago. He’s done a 180 now, and Hispanics understand that.
Aguilar: No, but that’s what the media’s saying.
Tavis: The media? No, it’s what McCain is saying.
Aguilar: To defend John McCain, John McCain hasn’t given up on a guest worker program. McCain believes in a guest worker program.
Tavis: Wait, wait, wait, wait. I want to (unintelligible) ask a question. Are you saying that you support – I want to be clear about this – are you saying that you support John McCain’s position in immigration? This John McCain, the one right now, you support his position on immigration?
Aguilar: I think he still believes in immigration reform, so I would still vote for John McCain.
Tavis: Wow.
Aguilar: I don’t support Barack Obama because he’s pandered to Latinos. He told Latinos the first year –
Tavis: Wait, wait, wait; so Obama’s pandering –
Aguilar: Yes.
Tavis: – and McCain is not?
Aguilar: No, because McCain –
Tavis: Wow.
Aguilar: – from the get-go (laughter) has been willing to work on immigration.
Tavis: Okay.
Aguilar: Okay, let’s be clear about this debate. Barack Obama told Latinos that the first year of his administration, he would work on immigration. He didn’t.
Tavis: Correct.
Aguilar: Then he said, second version, I’m going to propose my own plan and submit it by the end of ’09. Did it happen? No. Now he says, in July of an election year, that he wants to work on comprehensive reform. That’s adding insult to injury.
Tavis: This is my surprised – yeah.
Aguilar: So Latinos are angry. But second, and this is very important, and that’s the problem that we’re having in this debate that is not substantive, he hasn’t outlined what the principles of reform are. George Bush said clearly we need to stress border security, but we also need a guest worker program. Barack Obama is only saying we need employer sanctions and legalization. That’s not comprehensive reform.
Tavis: But here’s where the –
Aguilar: You need a guest worker program, and he’s being controlled by the unions.
Tavis: But here’s where the disconnect is, Alfonso. The disconnect, again, is you keep – two things. One, you keep going back to Bush. Bush is no longer in office. Hold on, hold on. We have to deal with the Republicans who are in the Senate, who are going to manage this debate if and when it gets off the ground. Bush, pardon my English, ain’t got nothing to do with that, number one. Number two, on President Obama – this might surprise you – I totally agree.
Aguilar: Okay.
Tavis: A lot of people believe that Barack Obama has not been as aggressive as president on this issue as he promised he would be and as he should be. No argument there. But the disconnect is here – I can’t believe you’re sitting here telling me you support John McCain’s view on this. I can’t believe you’re telling me that you support the view of some of these Tea Party actors and things they’ve had to say. I can’t believe that you’re telling me that –
Aguilar: I haven’t said that.
Tavis: Well, I can’t believe that you’re telling me, though, that a party that wants, that’s talking now about repealing the 14th Amendment is worthy of being considered by the Hispanic community. I don’t get that.
Aguilar: Okay, let’s put things in perspective. First of all, I agree with you. I’m speaking here as a conservative, not as a Republican, so my mention of Bush is to say in our recent history we’ve had Republicans that have supported immigration and have worked on immigration.
Tavis: Fair enough, fair enough.
Aguilar: Including John McCain.
Tavis: The old John McCain.
Aguilar: I would agree with you that currently, the Republican Party has been hijacked by a small minority of restrictionists who control the immigration debate. There are some in the Tea Party; however, the Tea Party, I wouldn’t say that the Tea Party stands against immigration reform, because they don’t have a position on immigration reform.
But what I would say is that there is a small minority of Republicans that have hijacked this issue with supportive anti-immigration groups. They don’t represent the majority of Republican voters. Politico just issued a poll last week that showed that 50 percent of Republican voters support for immigration reform. In my conversations with members of Congress, with staffers in Capitol Hill, I hear Republicans saying we want to work on immigration, we want to see immigration reform, but they’re silent.
They remain silent because of that small minority. They’re afraid of them. They’re afraid that if they say, “I’m for immigration reform,” they’re going to be labeled pro-amnesty. So I’m here –
Tavis: I hear that point. So why is it your position, then, that the Democrats are weak on the issue of immigration? Left side – Democrats are weak on immigration, Republicans are becoming cowards on the issue of immigration.
Aguilar: I agree 100 percent, and that’s what I’ve said publicly.
Tavis: Okay.
Aguilar: I believe that Republicans have to stand up, show leadership and go back to the principles of Reagan and say we’re the party of opportunity; we’re the party of the free market. We should reclaim this issue and promote immigration reform.
Tavis: But until – so we’re back to the beginning, then. Until they do that, then, why do you still believe that they are a natural fit for Hispanics who obviously put this issue at the top of their agenda?
Aguilar: I think they can be a natural fit. If we go back to the principles of Reagan, Hispanics would feel very comfortable with a conservative party. What I don’t want is to oversimplify this issue or make generalizations about Latinos, saying that Democrats are the party of Latinos and the Republicans are against Latinos. I think Latinos are very independent, they’re smart and in this upcoming election they should look at candidates.
Recently, Harry Reid said that he couldn’t understand how a person of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican. Well, that’s ridiculous. They’re going to look in this election at candidates. My organization, the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, has launched a $1 million campaign in California to encourage Latinos not to vote Republican or Democratic; to vote for their values.
We’re encouraging them to vote for Carly Fiorina. There you have a candidate who’s Republican, staunchly Republican, pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, in that sense, attractive to Latinos –
Tavis: And supports the Arizona law, does she not?
Aguilar: Yes.
Tavis: (Laughs) Come on, Alfonso.
Aguilar: Let’s not – but –
Tavis: (Laughs) All right.
Aguilar: – is for doing something on immigration. She has called for strengthening border security and for creating a guest worker program. Look, the fact of the matter is the majority of Americans support the Arizona law, but at the same time support immigration reform. So we need to elect people that can get things done.
Tavis: All right, I’m out of time. Send your mail to Alfonso, not to me. (Laughter) Alfonso, good to have you on the program.
Aguilar: Thank you, very nice to meet you.
Tavis: My pleasure, Alfonso Aguilar.
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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm