SANTA FE, NM (By Andrew Mach, Christian Science Monitor) January 26, 2012 ― The announcement late last year by New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) that her paternal grandparents came to the US illegally brought national attention to a small but growing trend in American politics: the rise of the anti-illegal immigration Latino. There are now two: Martinez and Rubio.
Rubio is supported by the Cuban community in Florida which will enable him to rise in Republican politics but Martinez is in New Mexico and New Mexico is mostly Hispanic brought about by the infusion of Mexicans and their descendants from the proximity of Mexico.
Being anti-Mexican undocumented is the kiss of death and Martinez will remain in office until someone runs against her with a proven record of success.
Since taking office last year, one of Governor Martinez’s top priorities has been repealing a state law that lets undocumented immigrants get a driver’s license – something legal only in New Mexico, Washington, and Utah.
Martinez also signed an executive order earlier this year requiring state law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of criminal suspects.
Even before confirming the rumors about her lineage, Martinez had drawn criticism from immigrant advocacy groups for such policies. Her acknowledgment last week only heightened the backlash, with critics saying her politics are hypocritical given her background.
The comments speak to the particular challenges that conservative Hispanics face in taking a hard line on illegal immigration. Yet Martinez’s rise to the governorship also suggests Latino politicians can break out of the traditional mold, even on this most sensitive of issues.
“It’s very possible Republicans – both Latino and non-Latino – can be supportive of immigration reform,” says Rosalind Gold, a senior policy analyst at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO). “This is internally an issue on the rise for Latino Republicans in statewide positions, which means there are going to be more people who are going to be supportive of immigration reform.”
Martinez is one of the most prominent members of the growing ranks of Latino Republicans in politics. In 2001, there were 30 Latino Republicans in state legislatures nationwide. Today, there are 41. During the same period, Latino Republicans holding statewide office have increased from one to five.
Likewise, a record number of Latino Republicans were elected to Congress last November, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, the only current Hispanic Republican in the Senate.
Though the numbers are small, they represent a historic high-water mark. “This is the first time we’ve had relatively this many Latinos in this position,” says Ms. Gold. “It’s a trend stemming from a combination of both strong Republican gains in the last election with Latinos being able to run viable campaigns.”
With this slow growth of Latino Republicans comes a more conservative take on illegal immigration as well as new political calculations. Martinez won the gubernatorial election in 2010 despite losing the Hispanic vote.
According to Jon Garrido of Hispanic News, Martinez did not win the Hispanic vote because Hispanics in New Mexico support candidates that are pro-immigration reform. As for Martinez, it was well known by all Hispanic New Mexicans, Martinez was a not pro-immigration advocate so Hispanics did not turn out to vote for Martinez.
The major factor for Martinez’s win was the Democratic candidate was a former member of Governor Bill Richardson’s senior staff. Preceding the gubernatorial election, there was an investigation into Richardson’s possibly improper business dealings in New Mexico and it was this investigation that tainted the Democratic candidate with a great deal of bad press.
Garrido further added, “It was not a case that Martinez won the election but rather the Democratic candidate lost the election. Given the direction Martinez is taking as governor with anti-undocumented actions will undermine her governorship assuring Martinez will be a one term governor.”