A GOP panel on how Latinos can become more prosperous ended Thursday with an outburst from several Hispanic Republicans who said the party isn't doing enough to reach the community.
"We need you out here talking to us!" yelled Robert Zavala, an audience member who stood in protest when the hourlong session finished without time to take questions. "I'm a proud Republican."
Another Las Vegas Latino, Cecilia Aldana, also joined in the shouting, saying Democrats often come to her door to promote the party yet Republicans never reach out to her and her neighbors.
Aldana, who legally came to America from Peru 30 years ago, especially rejected how Republicans deal with illegal immigration.
Aldana said Democrats have failed on reform, but the GOP also hasn't done enough to provide a path to U.S. citizenship for people illegally working in this country, often raising children born in America.
"Republicans, my own people, are calling us invaders," Aldana said in an interview after the meeting broke up. "Let's legalize them, find a way to do it. I'm not saying amnesty. Maybe through employers."
The outburst happened on the third day of the Western Republican Leadership Conference, which kicked off at The Venetian on Tuesday with a GOP presidential debate on CNN.
During the debate, Zavala asked the candidates about illegal immigration, which led to a confrontation between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
It's a hot-button topic, and both political parties have struggled with how to deal with the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants as the nation's Latino population has exploded.
Perry has been criticized for approving in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants, a program similar to the DREAM Act, which Democrats have been trying to get passed in Congress.
During the debate, Perry told Romney he had no right to criticize him on immigration because Romney had hired illegal immigrants who worked for a lawn company he employed.
Zavala, originally from Nicaragua, said he was disappointed in the presidential candidates.
He believes the GOP needs to appeal to Hispanics on the basis of shared conservative and family values.
He also believes the GOP needs to present a strong economic message at a time when unemployment is in the teens nationwide among Latinos.
"The Republican message is not coming through," Zavala said. "We can do a better job, and I just wanted them to listen to me."
Panel members seemed sympathetic and agreed to talk to the protesters in another room after the session, titled "Achieving Prosperity Within the Latino Community, a Conversation About Business, Education and Freedom."
One panel member, Rosario Marin, said she was pleased Hispanics responded with passion for Latinos and the party.
"I think it's great to get feedback," said Marin, U.S. treasurer during President George W. Bush's administration. "I think their frustration shows we didn't have enough time to discuss this."
Marin said she was mayor of Huntington Park, Calif., a city with 70 percent Democratic voter registration, so she understands how hard it is to be in the political minority.
Yet, she said, her election also shows Latinos can win crossover support.
"It's hard to be a Hispanic Republican in a sea of Democrats," she said.
Alfonzo Aguilar, executive director of Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said he didn't appreciate the yelling, but he understood the protesters' anger.
Aguilar said the protesters need to focus energy on getting out the Latino vote in 2012.
"We need to show up," Aguilar said. "We need to say (to Hispanics), 'We share the same values, and I'm a Republican.' And I think we need to focus on the economy."
President George W. Bush enjoyed strong Hispanic support, winning 44 percent of Latino votes in his 2004 re-election. Yet he failed to get Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2006.
Democrats since have made huge strides in winning over more of the Hispanic community.
In 2008, President Barack Obama won with the support of 67 percent of Hispanics nationwide and 74 percent in Nevada.
Obama, too, promised immigration reform but has failed , something that has hurt him in the Hispanic community.
In Nevada, Hispanics make up 26 percent of the population and were about 15 percent of the electorate in 2010.
Democrats have about a 2-to-1 registration advantage over Republicans among Latinos in Nevada.
Obama's community organization said the president believes he will continue to enjoy strong support from Hispanics in 2012.
Ofelia Casillas, regional press secretary for Obama for America, said, "The choice for Hispanic-Americans is between a president who passed legislation that kept 1.9 million Latinos out of poverty, provided 150,000 additional Hispanic students with the means to go to college, and fought to pass comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act, and a Republican field whose leading candidates oppose the DREAM Act and a path to citizenship for immigrants and would slash funding for education, Medicare and Social Security."