The GOP offered two different responses to President Obama’s final State of the Union speech on Tuesday evening — and the small differences between them reveal an internal conflict over a policy issue that’s especially important to Latino voters.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) offered separate messages in English and Spanish, respectively. In her speech, Haley supported stopping undocumented immigration and even refugee resettlement, while Diaz-Balart’s speech was tailored to a Spanish-speaking audience in favor of immigration reform.
Haley advocated for fixing “our broken immigration system” and appeared to shut the door on refugees “whose intentions cannot be determined.”
No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.
At the same time, that does not mean we just flat out open our borders. We can’t do that. We cannot continue to allow immigrants to come here illegally. And in this age of terrorism, we must not let in refugees whose intentions cannot be determined.
We must fix our broken immigration system. That means stopping illegal immigration. And it means welcoming properly vetted legal immigrants, regardless of their race or religion. Just like we have for centuries.
I have no doubt that if we act with proper focus, we can protect our borders, our sovereignty and our citizens, all while remaining true to America’s noblest legacies.
Diaz-Balart’s speech, meanwhile, took a softer approach and called for a humane solution for undocumented immigrants, according to a translation by The Miami Herald.
No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love the United States should ever feel unwelcome in this country. It’s not who we are.
At the same time, it’s obvious that our immigration system needs to be reformed. The current system puts our national security at risk and is an obstacle for our economy.
It’s essential that we find a legislative solution to protect our nation, defend our borders, offer a permanent and humane solution to those who live in the shadows, respect the rule of law, modernize the visa system and push the economy forward.
I have no doubt that if we work together, we can achieve this and continue to be faithful to the noblest legacies of the United States.
There were a few other differences between the two responses. Haley and Diaz-Balart shared different stories about their own backgrounds and Haley talked about the Charleston shooting, while Diaz-Balart talked about Cuba and Venezuela.
But the differences in Haley and Diaz-Balart’s speeches regarding immigration reform highlight the challenges that Republicans face on this issue, particularly in the year leading up to the 2016 primary election. This past year has seen the Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump floating to the top of the pack with xenophobic calls to deport the country’s 11.3 million undocumented immigrants and to track Syrian refugees in a database. Meanwhile, Diaz-Balart, who represents a Latino-heavy district in the Miami area, is still one of the few congressional Republicans who supports comprehensive immigration reform.
The GOP effort to reach out to Latino voters — one of the fastest growing minorities in the U.S. — has often fallen flat. For three years in a row, Republicans failed to mention immigration during Hispanic Heritage Month. And Nevada Sen. Dean Heller’s Spanish website once omitted his stance on border security and undocumented immigration.
For the past five years, the Republican response — delivered in English and Spanish — has typically been nearly identical, instead of being adapted to different audiences. But the speeches also diverged last year: Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) didn’t mention immigration at all, while Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) offered a single sentence with vague calls for “securing the border and modernizing our legal immigration system.”