Critics: GOP Needs to Step Up on Immigration Reform

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WASHINGTON -- Political experts say former Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney may have lost the election because he was weak on immigration reform.

According to one group of conservatives, a tiny minority of anti-immigrant Republicans convinced GOP primary candidates like Romney they had to shy away from reform.

"It's become the third rail of politics in our party where you don't want to talk about it," Brad Bailey, CEO of Texas Immigration Solution, said.

"I mean, when Mitt Romney got asked in the debates about immigration, it was very awkward. He was like, 'What do I do with my hands?'" he said.

It's a stance that came back to haunt the former governor on Election Day, when Hispanics turned on him.

"They were offended by him, so he entered the General Election mortally wounded. And it showed. Only 27 percent of Latinos voted for him," Alfonso Aguilar, with Latino Partnership For Conservative Principles, said.

Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptists Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, urged Christians to support Ronald Reagan's immigration reform policies.

"We have an obligation to treat others like we'd like to be treated, to love your neighbor as yourself," Land said.

Land told a gathering at the American Enterprise Institute the solutions are easy: identity cards, a clear path to citizenship, a flexible guest worker program that would let foreigners come and go easily. Leaders just need to step up.

"This is an issue that can be solved. The American people are way ahead of where their elected representatives are," he said.

But the National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru disagreed, saying immigration reform is not all that's blocking Republicans from capturing the Hispanic vote.

He said most Latinos embrace Obamacare, bigger government, and a much higher minimum wage.

"So on issue after issue, these are voters who just disagree with conservatives," Ponnuru told CBN News.

But Aguilar said he couldn't disagree more.

"If we get this issue right, Latinos will see the conservative message, will receive it well because they're for life, they're for marriage, they're extremely entrepreneurial," Aguilar said. "So we can be very competitive with them."

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.