The Republican Party should think twice the next time it tries to score political points at the expense of Latinos.
Hispanics voting for Republicans plummeted from 44 percent in 2004 to 29 percent on Nov. 7, according to exit polls conducted by CNN. The drop was one of several factors that cost them control of Congress.
The GOP chose to appeal to its hard-core conservative base in pushing punitive immigration legislation. Under Rep. James Sensenbrenner's bill, which ultimately stalled, clergy would have been arrested if they provided sanctuary to an undocumented worker.
The bill, and the anti-immigrant agenda, created a hysteria against undocumented workers: Many conservatives blamed them for everything from rising crime rates to overcrowded emergency rooms in hospitals.
The GOP strategized that this anti-immigrant campaign would distract the public's attention from Iraq, Katrina and corruption.
Before the election, a string of ads, particularly in Southwestern states like Arizona, demonized undocumented workers. In Southern California, Republican operatives were behind a series of phone calls to Hispanic homes that threatened them with arrest if they dared to show up at polling places.
The effect on Latino voters was clear: When you denigrate and threaten people, you will not win their votes.
The overwhelming smear campaign against undocumented workers drew criticism from even Hispanics who are in favor of border control and limiting immigration.
The idea that Latinos are hard-line conservatives at heart was also shredded by this election. While Latinos live in predominantly religious households with strong families, they don't necessarily support restrictions against stem cell research. And Republicans forgot some of the most important family values of all: access to stable jobs, health insurance, affordable housing.
They learned the lesson the hard way.
Ed Morales is a contributor to The New York Times and Newsday, and author of "Living in Spanglish" (St. Martin's Press, 2002). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.