After years of leading the opposition to liberalize immigration laws, establishment Republicans are now changing course to work with immigrants—even undocumented ones—to move the population toward mainstream assimilation. Although the effort to counter the Democratic stronghold on immigration is not so surprising, that the Koch brothers are providing the funding for immigrant assistance is something of a shock.
The effort– Linking Immigrants to Benefits, Resources and Education (LIBRE)—is an organization designed to counter the near monopoly Democratic candidates have traditionally held over immigrant-interest voters. Currently operating in nine states, the organization offers such services as Spanish-language test prep for driver’s license testing, tax preparation, health care and education.
While GOP efforts to make headway with Latino immigrants has evolved over the last several years, the funding behind LIBRE puts the organization in a class by itself. Republican presidential heavyweight contender Jeb Bush actively promotes his Spanish-language skills and also his wife’s Mexican heritage. The parents of GOP rising star Marco Rubio immigrated to the United State from Cuba. Over the last four years, the nonprofit group Freedom Partners— funded by the Koch brothers and other conservative donors– has donated $10 million to the organization.
But conservatives’ overtures to embrace a range of immigration issues don’t mean the Koch brothers and their cohorts are turning left. For example, LIBRE is on the record as opposing a minimum wage hike. LIBRE executive director Daniel Garza says messaging on this point is that a higher minimum wage could hurt the population by imposing higher costs on businesses. Additionally, Garza says the group consistently develops and runs ads that promote free markets, smaller government and school choice. LIBRE representatives also routinely appear in Spanish-language news programming to speak on the topic of self reliance.
While many in the general electorate undoubtedly feel a sense of relief as Republicans move forward in their immigration stance, prominent Democratic-backed groups are showing signs of uneasiness as the lock on immigration-related issues begins to erode. For Cristóbal Alex, president of the Democratic-backed Latino Victory Fund, LIBRE is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
In one report, Alex says LIBRE “talks about immigration in a positive way” but “is really doing work on behalf of the Koch brothers, who put huge money behind candidates against immigration reform.”
At The Brookings Institution, which is known to lean left, David Damore views LIBRE in less sinister terms. The GOP is doing what’s necessary in order to stay competitive, he says.
“Very few people listen to you if you say you want to deport you and your family.” He added that LIBRE’s strategy is not to win the Latino vote, “just not losing it 3 to 1.”