DALLAS, Texas -- Latino political leaders and activists have condemned Texas Governor Rick Perry for reportedly contacting anti-immigrant Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona’s Maricopa County to discuss immigration policy, saying the meeting is proof that a Perry presidency would spell bad news for Hispanics.
On Aug. 19, Arpaio used his Twitter account to inform his followers that Perry’s presidential campaign had reached out to him. Several weeks later, on Sept. 3, he revealed that Perry had called him at home and they'd had "a great conversation, especially about immigration and other matters."
Perry is "doing the wrong things to please the wrong people," said Lauro Garza, director of the Texas chapter of Somos Republicans, in an interview with HuffPost LatinoVoices. When he aligns himself with people like Arpaio, "it becomes harder to defend his attitudes towards Latinos."
Arpaio has become an outspoken icon for the nation's anti-immigration movement. His office deported more than 26,000 undocumented immigrants between 2007 and 2010 -- about a quarter of the total deported nationally during that period.
Garza, a retired police officer and customs agent, said that the contact between Perry and Arpaio would alienate Hispanic Republicans. Hearing about their discussion "sickened us, as if he’d brought a dead skunk to a barbecue," Garza said.
He added that, among the “known anti-immigrants” in the U.S., Arpaio represents the “worst extreme." "We don’t respect him and don’t think he deserves to be a Republican," he said.
Despite Governor Perry’s having grown up in a small, rural town in west Texas close to the Latino community, and being cognizant of issues sensitive to Latinos, Garza noted that Perry has changed his position on immigration. He now champions anti-immigration policies that have been proposed to the Texas State Legislature, perhaps in a bid to appease Tea Party activists.
“Rick Perry is not the only Republican we like, so if another of the candidates convinces us, we could happily give him our vote," said Garza. "Although Perry has the greatest potential, we won’t give him our vote if he continues committing such mistakes."
Rebecca Acuña, Latino outreach spokeswoman for the Texas Democratic Party, indicated that the 'anti-Hispanic' politics of the Republican governor were already well known. “We are not surprised that he is asking for advice on immigration issues from a man who is being investigated by the Justice Department for alleged abuses against Latino immigrants,” she said.
"Sheriff Arpaio uses his office to accost and terrorize Hispanic immigrants," she said. "His tactics are radical, such as forcing pregnant immigrant women to go through labor while handcuffed to a bed. He has become one of the biggest enemies of the Latino community.”
Acuña added that, as governor, Perry has frequently worked against the interests of the Hispanic community. She brought up his recent comments that Texas should adopt laws similar to SB 1070, Arizona’s controversial anti-immigration law.
"[Perry] is too ready to sacrifice Latinos to win political points with his party’s extremists," she said. "As such, Hispanics would be the biggest losers in a Perry presidency."
Seeking out Arpaio to discuss immigration was a "grave error" on Perry's part, said Fernando Garcia, founding member of the Texas Alliance for Immigration Reform and Executive Director of the Border Network for Human Rights. The phone call could be the "devil's kiss" -- the kiss of death -- to his presidential campaign as far as Latino voters are concerned, Garcia said.
Perry is underestimating Hispanics and "throwing Latino votes away," he added. Arpaio "openly abuses his authority as sheriff and uses his position to promote his racist attitude ... he is only interested in bothering immigrants who come to this country to work."
Just last year, Perry had publicly stated that he did not believe that Arizona’s SB1070 law was appropriate for Texas.
Garcia believes that Perry is clearly hardening his stance on immigration as his presidential candidacy continues and “thinks that having anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic and racist policies will win him votes” in the Republican primaries. Perry “seems to ignore that neither he nor anyone else can win the presidential election without the Hispanic vote,” aligning himself with the Tea Party which represents the “most conservative, antiquated and anti-immigrant” values, Garcia said.
Perry "is committing a series of errors, including some intentional ones in that he is underestimating Hispanics," said Garcia.
According to the 2010 Census, 37.6% of Texas’ population and 16.3% of the U.S. total population is Hispanic.