Her GOP presidential running mate, Sen. John McCain, had taken a similar stance, arguing for a comprehensive immigration plan, a multi-faceted approach that includes border patrol, a crackdown on illegal hiring, legalizing immigrants already in the United States and creating a more flexible immigration system. The Arizona law and its more stringent provisions were not part of the national debate at the time.
But Palin came out last Saturday in clear support of Arizona's new law, which would be the most robust in the nation in terms of targeting people suspected of being illegal immigrants. The law is set to take effect July 29, barring any successful legal challenges.
Sharry said Palin's comments risk alienating Latino voters, the fastest-growing group of voters, from the Republican Party. Latino voter registration grew 54 percent and turnout grew 64 percent from 2000 to 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Republican President George W. Bush and Republican political strategist Karl Rove had made inroads with Latinos in 2000 and 2004 in key states such as Florida, Sharry said, where Latino voters backed Bush over Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts by a 12 point margin in 2004.
But, Sharry said, "The Republican party has now become branded among Latino immigrants as the 'party that hates us.'"
According to a report by America's Voices, Latinos will make a difference in 42 races in 12 states in the upcoming 2010 mid-term gubernatorial, Senate and House races: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.
"Someone like Sarah Palin or John McCain or Mitt Romney should stand up and say, 'Stop the madness, stop the political suicide,'" Sharry said.
Alfonso Aguilar, executive director for the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said liberals were trying to use the Arizona law to unfairly attack Republicans, when it's really Democrats who have failed to act on immigration laws.
"They know Latinos are mad at them [Democrats], so they're trying to use Arizona to drive a wedge, to say, 'You know what, Republicans don't like Latinos," Aguilar said. "Sadly, they know that the reason why we have the law in Arizona is because Barack Obama has not dealt with immigration as he said he would during the campaign. He has absolutely failed the Latino community."
Aguilar said that although he doesn't support the law, reaction to it has been exaggerated.
"I'm not a fan of Arizona law, but to say that the bill will lead to systematic and mass discrimination is an outright lie," he said.
He added that attempts to pit Latinos against Republicans would backfire within the Latino community.
"Latinos don't like to be treated in a condescending way," he said. "They're not going to respond to those tactics, and I think it's going to backfire."