As we sit down at Starbucks, I ask about immigration. What comes next is dizzying: a battle plan that contradicts everything the GOP has been doing and saying since 2007, Romney’s “self-deportation” strategy included. “‘Self-deport?’ What the heck does that mean?” Martinez snaps. “I have no doubt Hispanics have been alienated during this campaign. But now there’s an opportunity for Governor Romney to have a sincere conversation about what we can do and why.”
Naturally, Martinez has some suggestions. First, Republicans should remind Latinos that Obama pledged (and failed) to pass comprehensive immigration reform by the end of his initial year in office. Next, the GOP should outflank the president by proposing its own comprehensive plan. “I absolutely advocate for comprehensive immigration reform,” Martinez says, sipping a caramel macchiato. “Republicans want to be tough and say, ‘Illegals, you’re gone.’ But the answer is a lot more complex than that.” Martinez envisions an approach “with multiple levels”: increased border security; deportation for criminals; a guest-worker program; a DREAM Act-style pathway to citizenship, through the military or college, for children brought here illegally by their parents; and a visa (coupled with a “penalty” or a “tagback”) that allows the rest of the illegal population to remain in the U.S. while they follow standard naturalization procedures.
Martinez’s point is not that Republicans should peddle “amnesty.” In New Mexico, she’s taken a lot of heat from Latinos for repeatedly pushing to repeal a law that allows illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses; she also opposes a standalone DREAM Act, arguing that “it has to be part of a larger plan.” She simply believes that a more pragmatic approach will help Republicans in the long run, particularly if it’s paired with the sort of issues-based appeal that inspired her to switch parties and a more aggressive campaign to recruit Hispanic candidates for local office. Maybe then the GOP can finally do what she did in her first statewide contest: approach the magic 40 percent mark among Latino voters. That alone would be enough to swing a presidential election.
“I’m so tired of the rhetoric,” Martinez says. “‘Lower taxes,’ you know. ‘More opportunity.’ Da da da. It’s this five-liner of nothingness. There have to be some distinctions for people to latch on to.”