NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Churches are the "point of entry" to the Latino community, Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, told his fellow conservatives Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
The conservative movement cannot grow, Aguilar warned, unless it reaches out to and engages with the Latino community. The good news, Aguilar said as he paraphrased Ronald Reagan, is that Latinos are conservative, they just do not know it yet. If Latinos are educated about the conservative agenda, "they will realize that their values are conservative values."
Many Latino immigrants came to the United States, Aguilar said, because they were attracted to the U.S. "system of opportunities and liberties," and sought to free themselves from "state run economies" and "intrusive governments."
The first thing conservatives need to do, Aguilar advised, is "talk to them."
"Many times, good conservative candidates lose elections because they don't talk to Hispanic voters," he said. But "it can't be two months before the election. That's insulting. ... We have to engage with Latinos, as conservatives, continuously."
And the best place to do that, Aguilar added, is Latino churches.
"We have great networks of support in Hispanic evangelical churches, orthodox Latino Catholics, who are willing to work with us. We don't have to reinvent the wheel."
After his talk, one audience member asked if there were any other networks besides the churches that conservatives could work through.
"Sadly," Aguilar answered, "most Latino grassroots organizations are tied to the left. The network of community organizations that we have that support our issues are the churches. With Latinos, the point of entry to the communities are the communities of faith."
Aguilar also warned conservatives not to change their positions on life and marriage because Latinos are social conservatives. "It's suicide to think that we can grow as a movement if we [change] our positions on family and on life. We will end up with a very big tent, but very empty."
Besides a populist economic message and maintaining a conservative position on life and marriage, conservatives must also address the immigration issue, Aguilar said.
Immigration is "not the most important issue for Latinos, but it's a gateway issue," he explained. "If we don't get this issue right, they're just not going to listen to us."
Aguilar recommended supporting a path to citizenship for current unauthorized immigrants and argued that would not be in opposition to conservative principles.
"We need to support a path to legal status," he said, "because we have not had a system that worked for 40 years. If we are the party of the family, we can't deport millions of families. Are we willing to separate hundreds of thousands of families? I submit to you, that is not supportive of the family."
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush recently raised the issue of whether current unauthorized immigrants should be provided a path to citizenship or a path to legal status that does not include citizenship. In a conversation with The Christian Post after his talk, Aguilar explained why he supports a path to citizenship.
"We don't want to have a community of millions of people living in the United States permanently that don't have access to citizenship," he said. "We will be marginalizing them. They will feel like foreigners in the U.S. Even from a standpoint of the social cohesion of the country, homeland security, we want people invested in the country."