Immigrants at the RNC: Representation Without Authenticity

DARLINGTON, SC - MAY 12:  South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley speaks to the media prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles
DARLINGTON, SC - MAY 12: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley speaks to the media prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 12, 2012 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The GOP is trying hard to present a face of diversity in a coalition dominated by white men. The RNC proceedings are chock-a-block with the new American demographic -- from Haitian American Mia Love to Indian American Nikki Haley. As the convention proceeds, several Latinos, including Governor Susanna Martinez and Ted Cruz as well as the GOP's superstar Latino -- Marco Rubio -- will speak. What this line-up shares is not just political affiliation, but also hypocrisy about their own immigrant backgrounds.

Mayor Mia Love's position on immigration harks back to the narrative she has constructed of her parents' own immigration story of libertarian self-reliance and individualism. "When tough times came," she says, "they didn't look to Washington. They looked within." Her views on undocumented immigrants are mainstream Republican: "protect our borders and remove the magnets. Only after we have plugged the hole in the boat can we begin to deal with the water in it."

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley experienced harassment and discrimination growing up Sikh in South Carolina. When she was a young girl, both Haley and her sister Simran were disqualified from the local Little Miss Bamberg pageant because the judges couldn't fit either into the pre-existing white and black racial categories. Her brothers were forced to violate their religious customs and begin cutting their hair after incessant bullying in public school. Perhaps because of these experiences, Haley Anglicized her name and now practices Christianity. As governor, she supported Arizona's SB 1070 and signed into law a South Carolina bill that "tightened what were already some of the nation's toughest measures." Legal immigrants "come here, they put in their time, they pay the price and they get here the right way," Haley says. "What we're saying is this state can no longer afford to support people that don't come here the right way and we are now going to do something about it."

New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez, who herself is the granddaughter of undocumented immigrants, is one of the leading anti-immigrant voices in the Republican Party. She ran a vitriolic and racialized anti-immigrant gubernatorial campaign in 2010. When elected to office, one of Martinez's top priorities was the repeal of the state law allowing undocumented immigrants to have driver's licenses. She then signed an executive order requiring the state's police force to, like Arizona and South Carolina's, check the immigration status of any suspected criminals.

Senator Marco Rubio, a U.S. born Cuban-American immigrant is an immigration hard-liner and yet the best hope the national Republican Party has of passing any semblance of comprehensive reform. Rubio's own grandfather, Pedro Victor, fled Castro's regime, landing in Miami without a visa. He was detained and ordered deported. But, Victor stayed in the US, his immigration status in flux, until granted permanent residency by the Cuban Readjustment Act in 1966. Rubio excited immigrant activists this summer with his much-hyped alternative DREAM proposal. While President Obama quickly stole the winds from Rubio's sails with his announcement of deferred action for DREAMers, Rubio remains an important ally and the best chance that Democrats might have at reaching across the aisle for support on comprehensive immigration legislation.

The face of the GOP may seem more diverse, but at least among this line-up, we see a plethora of hypocrisy, a denial of each individual's own immigrant story and reality, and a lack of acknowledgement of the economic, social, and political benefits that immigrants and diversity bring to our country. The new "face" of the GOP may indicate "inclusivity" of all races, genders, and nationalities but poll numbers continue to show that voters have yet to follow.