Republicans Have a Hispanic Problem, But Texas GOP Thinks It Has the Solution [Updated]

Five months to go and Republicans are waking up to the awful realization that over the course of the primary season -- the last five or six years, really -- they've done their level-best to alienate the largest minority demographic not only in Texas, but in the nation. It is as though the throttling they took in 2008 didn't sting enough. Some 68 percent of the Latino electorate flocked to candidate Obama. According to a recent Gallup poll, the number has barely budged in 2012.

In Texas, the Latino population is edging toward 40 percent. Of the state's population under 18 years old, nearly half are Latino. That's the next generation of voters. The complexion of the state will continue to change, and the electoral landscape will continue to shift under Republican feet. And state GOPers now know that better than anyone. So its recent entreaty to the Hispanic voters isn't surprising, though it's probably way too little, and definitely too late. Their plan doesn't involve immigration amnesty, mind you. Nothing of the sort, lest they risk perturbing nativists. It's a kind of guest worker program that involves a fine, requires proficiency in English and mandates some form of health insurance.

Texas Ag Commish Todd Staples, who is an aspirant for the lieutenant governorship, says he proposed the idea to the Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture a year ago. Undocumented immigrants, he says, should be able to "come forward" and pay a "considerable" fine. Because, clearly, those emigrating without any documentation have plenty of liquid assets.

Naturally, the proposal adopted by the SASDA doesn't include an insurance requirement. In a way, Staples' version clarifies what exactly the proposal is intended to accomplish. Undocumented immigrants make up 50 percent of the low-wage farm labor the industry counts on each season, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Without them, labor-intensive crops don't get harvested. And no matter how high unemployment rates rise, citizens won't fill the void.

It's really quite a clever play. They retain the favor of the immensely powerful farm lobby -- representing an industry smarting of late in places like Alabama because of the state's strict anti-immigration laws -- by proposing to take the federal boot off of the neck of the migrant farm worker, thereby guaranteeing a steady flow of dirt-cheap labor. That's supposed to look like mercy, for the benefit of the Latino voter.

The state Republican Party goes a step further by supporting the removal of birthright citizenship -- aka the 14th Amendment -- a wink to white nativists. See, the revamped guest worker scheme is only one component of a three-part play, intended to satisfy three different constituencies. It has nothing whatever to do with making citizens out of migrant workers. Quite the opposite, in fact. Well played, Texas GOP.

Update: Today, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will announce that the Obama administration will offer work permits to Dream Act-eligible undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country before the age of 16, have a high-school diploma or military service and no criminal background. Far from a low-wage giveaway to the agriculture lobby, this is a singular act of compassion from an administration that has deported people in record numbers, giving those brought here as children the opportunity to pursue the American dream.

It goes without saying: Obama now has a lock on the Hispanic vote.

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Brantley Hargrove