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GOP Risks Alienating Latinos by Scapegoating Immigrants in Health Care Debate

As a leading immigration restrictionist group today opens a conference highlighting the costs of immigrants to the nation’s health care system, critics are pointing out the risks of Republicans’ embracing an anti-immigrant strategy in the health care debate.

“The Republican Party’s embrace of the nativist base is probably the most self destructive” decision party leaders could make, Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigration reform group America’s Voice, told Roll Call.

Given that Latinos tend to be Catholic and socially conservative, many might have leaned Republican, Sharry notes, had the GOP not started adopting a nativist agenda. This latest anti-immigrant stance, Sharry argues, risks transforming Latino voters from a swing group to “a reliable bloc” for Democrats.

Henry Fernandez, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, agreed.

“Immigration is a constant theme,” he told Roll Call. “It’s red meat for foot soldiers who are willing to hold up signs at town halls,” adding that the anti-immigrant rhetoric encourages the participation of “dangerous people in our public discourse.”

As I reported last week, protesters at town hall meetings are increasingly railing against lawmakers for seeking to provide health care to illegal immigrants, although the pending House bill not only denies benefits to illegal immigrants but severely restricts benefits to legal immigrants as well. Still, the anger fomented by anti-health care reform groups has spilled over into nativist death threats.

Last week outside President Obama’s town hall meeting in New Hampshire, one protester shouted, “We don’t need illegals,” adding, “Send ‘em back with a bullet in the head.”

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