The Republican Party may lose the Latino vote over its latest stance on restricting citizenship to children born to certain immigrants, warned an influential Hispanic evangelical.
Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said his group is "disappointed" with the Republican Party's rhetoric on immigration, especially regarding the party's consideration to amend the constitutional provision guaranteeing "birthright citizenship."
"[It] may very well serve as the nail on the coffin to the inevitable alienation of America's largest ethnic minority," Rodriguez commented in a statement Tuesday.
Top Republican leaders – including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell; the party's 2008 presidential nominee, John McCain; and the party's No. 2 in the Senate, Jon Kyl – have recently questioned the right to automatic citizenship to babies born in the United States.
Although cautious in their statements – as to not alienate Hispanic voters – the Republican leaders displayed their serious consideration of the issue that had previously been confined to the far right. The issue, however, is expected to appeal to conservative voters.
"I'm not sure exactly what the drafters of the [14th] amendment had in mind, but I doubt it was that somebody could fly in from Brazil and have a child and fly back home with that child, and that child is forever an American citizen," Sessions said earlier this month, according to The Associated Press.
The 14th Amendment was adopted in 1868 and provided a broader definition of citizenship intended to allow children of freed black slaves to be U.S. citizens.
But Rodriguez said the current "birthright citizenship" debate and Arizona's controversial illegal immigration law – strongly supported by the state's Republican governor – is sending "a very clear message to Latinos" that the Republican Party stands for "polarizing communities, accepting racial profiling and building walls not in the desert of Arizona but unfortunately through Main Street U.S.A."
He highlighted the contradiction in the Republican Party's call for family values while at the same time advocating the deportation of illegal immigrant families.
The Hispanic Christian leader urged Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that provides a pathway for illegal immigrants to gain legal residency or citizenship.
Notably, amid the immigration debate, several prominent conservative evangelicals have sided with the Latino community and split with the GOP on the issue. Evangelicals are one of the Republican Party's staunchest supporters.
The National Association of Evangelicals, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Liberty Counsel have all issued statements in support of comprehensive immigration reform that provides a pathway for undocumented immigrants already in the country.
"Let us be clear – an earned pathway to citizenship is not amnesty," reads the statement endorsed by the three groups in May. "We reject amnesty. And we ask those who label an earned pathway to citizenship as amnesty to stop politicizing this debate needlessly and to honestly acknowledge the difference."
There are an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. An estimated 3.8 million illegal immigrants in the country have children who are U.S. citizens, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.