Latino Evangelicals May Ditch GOP Over Immigration Reform

WASHINGTON – Prominent Latino evangelical leaders expressed their disappointment at Republican lawmakers' lack of support for the recent immigration reform bill, leading an expert to predict that the GOP presidential hopefuls may have lost their Latino evangelical voters base.

Republican senators were held responsible for derailing this summer's comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform bill. Three-quarters of the Senate's Republicans voted to kill the bill, which fell 14 votes short of the 60 needed to limit debate and move toward final passage of the legislation. Republican opponents denounced the bill as amnesty for providing a plan which allowed the country's 12 million illegal immigrants to become U.S. citizens.

"They completely abandoned us," said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference, according to The Dallas Morning

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Rodriguez, a Republican proponent, tried to rally support among Republican senators for a bill which he considers a moral and biblical response to the immigration crisis.

"We were divided on global warming, but not on immigration," commented Rodriguez, noting Hispanic leaders in all 50 state chapters of the NHLC believe Latino evangelicals will now not show up at the polls for Republicans.

The NHCLC is the largest Hispanic Evangelical organization in the United States, representing some 15 million evangelical members. The NHCLC is the sister organization of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Rodriguez's prediction should strike Republican White House hopefuls as a serious problem given statistics on Latino Protestant voting trend.

In 2004, President George W. Bush received 68 percent of the voting population who identified themselves as Latino Protestant who attended church weekly. Although the group was not a dominant voting base for Bush, swing groups such as Latino evangelicals can play a significant role in close elections, pollster John Green of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life said to the Dallas Morning News.

Rodriguez, and others like him, are now questioning whether they can label the GOP party as the "party of Jeff Sessions, Tom Tancredo and James Sensenbrenner" who were strong opponents of the immigration bill, or the party of George W. Bush and John McCain who are both strongly in favor of the bill.

White House negotiators along with the group of bipartisan senators helped draw up the immigration bill which has been President Bush's top domestic priority in his second term. Bush had even made a rare personal appearance on Capitol Hill to plead with Republican senators to support the bill.

Another Latino evangelical leader who agreed that the immigration issue could really hurt Republican candidates is the Rev. Lynn Godsey, who works with Latino Protestants in North Texas. Godsey said the only Republican presidential candidate in good standing with Latino evangelicals is Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

The Rev. Mark Gonzalez of Dallas said some Latino evangelicals will continue to vote Republican, but others will switch to Democrats or stay home.

"I usually like to suggest how candidates or officials can head off a coming disaster," wrote William McKenzie, editorial columnist of the Dallas Morning News. "This one's hard because most of the GOP presidential contenders are running away from the Bush-McCain line on immigration. That means they are only digging a deeper grave with a natural Republican constituency."

McKenzie advised Republican lawmakers and presidential hopefuls to make more efforts to speak to Latino evangelical leaders. He noted that President Bush has met twice this year already with Latino evangelical pastors.

"But Republicans are moving into the post-Bush era," commented McKenzie. "As they do, Latino evangelicals may not go with them."

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