When Hector Caballero came to this country, he had $200 to his name.
Caballero, 45, is now a neurologist, practicing medicine from an office in Northport.
"This is the only country where you can do something like that," said Caballero, who said he left Cuba at age 26 and lived in other countries before coming to the United States.
Caballero is a rock-ribbed Republican who says he voted for Mitt Romney and "would do it again and again." But he thinks his party screwed up the fine points of the immigration issue.
"You cannot give citizenship to people who came here illegally," he said. "But for those who were one or two years old and had no choice, you have to give them a pathway to citizenship. That's how we lost the argument."
Caballero ran for a seat as a delegate to the Republican National Convention earlier this year -- and he lost. But now that GOP nominee Mitt Romney lost the election, due in part to the loss of the Hispanic vote, party leaders have developed a keener interest in hearing his voice.
"We're going to be reaching out to Hispanics in Alabama, in terms of honing our message to them," said Bill Armistead, chairman of the Alabama Republican Party.
The Nov. 6 election delivered a punishing message to immigration hard-liners within the GOP.
In the years before the election, several states, from Arizona to Georgia, passed immigration laws that allowed police to ask people for proof of citizenship on routine traffic stops, and giving them the power to detain people who couldn't prove they were here legally. Alabama's law, by most accounts, was the toughest of them all, demanding proof of citizenship for all sorts of government transactions, from getting an electrician's license to buying a car tag.
But on Election Day, the immigration issue proved to be an albatross around the party's neck. According to polls from the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, 75 percent of Latino voters nationwide chose Obama. Democrats won wide majorities among every segment of the Hispanic population except for Cuban-Americans, who favored Romney by 10 points. Exit polls by various news organizations showed similar numbers -- and they showed Republicans losing ground significantly with Hispanic voters between 2008 and 2012.
That shift had GOP leaders nationwide signaling a possible pivot on immigration, with congressional leaders such as House Speaker John Boehner, R- Ohio, saying they're open to "comprehensive" immigration reform, a phrase that usually refers to a more Democratic approach that would allow immigrants a pathway to citizenship.
When playing on the home field, Alabama politicians have little to fear from the loss of the Latino vote. Hispanics make up only 4 percent of the state's population, according to the Census.
But what happens in Alabama can affect the party's chances nationwide -- and not just for one election cycle.
The Hispanic population is growing faster than any other demographic group, said William Stewart, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Alabama.
"The Republicans are asking for continual defeat if they don't change their approach," he said.
The U.S. Hispanic population grew from 35 million in 2000 to 50 million in 2010, according to the Census Bureau -- surpassing African Americans as the nation's largest minority group. About half of those people live in Florida, California and Texas, states that are major electoral-vote prizes.
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