The good news is that the Republican National Committee is stepping up its game early and has already established a network of campaign operatives in key states that are proactively reaching out to Latinos. Moreover, there are national conservative Latino organizations like the American Principles Project's Latino Partnership, the Libre Initiative, and the Media Research Center Latino, which launched last month.
These organizations are engaged in grassroots work, trying to make inroads within the community, and encouraging Latinos to support conservative candidates and causes. The Media Research Center Latino will also aggressively engage, monitor, and critique liberal bias in Spanish-language media, an entryway to millions of Latino homes. That is increasingly important work because the Univision TV Network alone reaches 97 percent of all Hispanic households in the country.
Second, the GOP needs to lead on immigration. Polls show that immigration is not the most important issue for Latinos, but it's still of great significance to them. If the GOP doesn't get it right, Latinos are simply not going to listen to anything else the party and its candidates have to say, as attractive as their positions on a number of other issues may be. Even having a presence in the Latino community will mean nothing if Republicans don't deal with immigration constructively.
As Sen. Rand Paul stated recently, "[Latinos are] not going to care whether we go to the same church, or have the same values, or believe in the same kind of future of our country until we get beyond that [immigration]. Showing up helps, but you got to show up and you got to say something, and it has to be different from what we've been saying."
Properly addressing immigration doesn't mean, as some rabid restrictionists like to argue, that the GOP has to move to the "left" on the issue. To the contrary, the GOP should reclaim the immigration issue based on the conservative values that it has always defended, like the central role of the family and the effectiveness of the free market.
After all, conservatives believe that big government is responsible for creating the immense population of undocumented immigrants that live in America today. Congress has arbitrarily set up work-visa quotas that don't reflect the needs of our labor market. And since American businesses need foreign workers to do labor-intensive jobs that Americans don't want or for which there are no Americans of working age to fill, foreign migrants keep coming in illegally. Why should the government tell a U.S business owner who cannot find American workers for his farm or factory that he cannot bring the workers he desperately needs from abroad?
On this issue, however, there has also been progress. While House Republicans don't want to tackle immigration reform this year, as they are concerned that it may derail their chances of taking back the Senate later this year, there seems to be consensus among their ranks that they should take it on in 2015. Moreover, the House Leadership has produced a set of immigration principles to guide the debate which have been warmly received by most Republicans members. They include creating more market-oriented guest-worker programs and a path to legal status for the undocumented.