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Republican Voters And Immigration


Republicans are planning to hold votes on two immigration measures next week - one bill from hard-line conservatives, the other by a coalition of 23 moderate Republicans. We want to take a look at what's purportedly driving the two groups - their voters. First, we go to central California. Luis Alvarado is a Latino Republican strategist working in that state. Welcome to the program.

LUIS ALVARADO: Thanks for the invitation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So California Congressman Jeff Denham represents a swing district with a large Latino population in your state. And he's been front and center as a moderate view on immigration for Republicans. What are the conditions on the ground that are driving his position?

ALVARADO: He's actually connected to the constituents, something that sometimes is not seen because we see politicals that are afraid of outside forces coming in and hitting them in primaries. And Jeff Denham doesn't have that fear. He's actually survived many attempts by Democrats and even extreme right-side conservatives on knocking him out. And he's steadfast in that position.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. Jeff Denham, though, is a Republican. And now we have a policy by the Trump administration that they should separate families at the border. Is this a motivating issue do you think for voters in the district?

ALVARADO: It is incredibly motivating subject. If it is - I hate to use the word package correctly. If it's just waved as a political tool, then people become dissatisfied. Latinos specifically, I'll speak for them, have become more sophisticated from the 1980s, where it was just like, hey. Those guys hate us. Let's go vote against them. Now I think Latinos are more discerning because they've seen that both parties have used them as bargaining chips or chess pieces, so they're a little bit more cautious. And if they feel confused, they're going to sit on their hands and not show up and vote. And I think we saw that in the last elections here on the primaries in California.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the moderate proposal, though, that someone like Jeff Denham is supporting contains funding for a border wall. It limits legal immigration. And President Trump said this past week he would sign it if it passed. Wouldn't that be a tough sell to voters - Latino voters in this district? Or can they be convinced that this is really a compromise that is worth making?

ALVARADO: If it is, once again, packaged - and I'm talking about the communication of explaining what it is that's happening. And it's not just to the Latino community. It also has to explain it to the very conservative side of the party within that district. If he can accomplish that, then he's going to be fine. Then the question begs, is it actually a compromise? Because I've talked to members of the Democrat and the progressive sides who feel that there is no compromise in this package that's being voted on. Actually, it's just something to give cover to the speaker and to the president as they move forward into the midterms. It'll be interesting to see how it is presented to the population, to the electorate and how that actually affects their communities.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But just more broadly, Luis, is - you're a Latino Republican strategist. And immigration is at the heart of so much that's being debated right now. And I know within the Latino community, it is a subject that is very much debated because many Latinos have relatives or people that they know that are impacted by these policies, so is it a tough sell? I mean, how difficult is it for you to sort of push out the Republican message writ large when a certain community is feeling targeted?

ALVARADO: Well, I tell you that from day one, I myself have been an active advocate against the policies of my president, Donald Trump. And that's because I felt that his policies have been offensive. And I've demonstrated and have argued against those positions. That being said, it's because if you can demonstrate as a Republican that you're actually not online or you're not part of that group that is spewing the hate rhetoric, and you're actually concerned with governing, and you can make that case, then you're going to be OK. And that's where elected officials like Jeff Denham have demonstrated that they're going to stand with their constituents. And that's what voters are seeing. And that's what they go to the polls and vote on.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Luis Alvarado is a Latino Republican strategist. Thank you so much.

ALVARADO: It's my pleasure. Thank you for inviting me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.