Concordia University Irvine Friday hosted a luncheon with Orange County leaders and three keynote speakers that highlighted a pressing question for California Republicans - how will a party seen by many as anti-Latino survive in a state where Latinos will soon outnumber whites?
The difficulty in attracting minority voters to the party is not a new problem, but the urgency was emphasized when Lincoln Club activist Teresa Hernandez presented a statistic showing that every day 50,000 Latinos in the state turn 18-years-old and potentially become voters. By 2030, Hernandez said, 43 percent of state residents will be Latino, while 36 percent of residents will be white.
Hernandez, columnist Ruben Navarrette and pastor Tim Celek sought to bring new perspectives to the immigration debate. Hernandez presented a guest worker proposal, while Celek reminded luncheon attendees of the Biblical mandate to treat immigrants humanely. Navarrette criticized Democrats and Republicans alike for what he said was their dishonesty regarding the issue.
The speakers made some hard-to-swallow statements about American society and its complicated relationship with illegal immigration.
Hernandez and Navarrette said that American workers aren't cut out for the backbreaking field work Mexican immigrants do. Americans enjoy the fruits of cheap labor when they pay 50 cents for an apple instead of five dollars, Hernandez said.
Also, Hernandez said, even in a state like Oklahoma, where unemployment is high, farms are short-handed. This is because residents in that state have little interest field work, she said.
"We don't raise our kids in this country to pick crops. It is grueling, grueling work," Hernandez said.
The problem many residents have with undocumented immigrants, Hernandez said, is the perception that they don't pay into the tax-base but enjoy benefits like a free public education.
The guest worker program would eliminate that problem by having immigrants pay taxes, according to Hernandez. It would also hold employers accountable for hiring undocumented immigrants by enforcing strict penalties, she said.
A guest worker system in the 1940s, known as the "Bracero Program," reduced illegal border crossings from 1 million per year to 45,000, according to Hernandez. However, the program was eliminated because of labor union pressure, she said.
But Hernadez's proposal doesn't offer a pathway to citizenship and wouldn't allow immigrants to bring their families into the country.
That approach - which allows immigrants to work in the country but have no ability to participate in the American system - drew criticism from Celek, a senior pastor at The Crossing Church of Costa Mesa.
Immigration policy, Celek said, should be grounded in Biblical demands to treat immigrants equally and "at the core be about the dignity of people made in God's image."
"Have you ever had someone in your home - other than to clean it or to mow it - but to break bread with?" Celek asked the group.
Celek also told the group that Latinos - who typically are social conservatives - are natural Republican voters, so it doesn't make sense to prevent them from becoming citizens.
Navarrette, a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group and frequent commentator on various media outlets, said that Democrats and Republicans both lie about their positions, but for different reasons.
Republicans talk tough on immigration to so-called "nativists," people who are scared that their children will have to know Spanish to be employable, Navarrette said, but then placate the businesses who employ undocumented immigrants by actually implementing soft policies.
Democrats, meanwhile, talk soft on immigration but then enact tough policies to satisfy unions scared of new competition in the labor market, Navarrette said. He pointed to President Barack Obama's record number of deportations as evidence.
"The number one thing we need to do to fix this issue is to bring some honesty to this issue," Navarrette said.