Note: This blog was originally published on November 10, 2010 by Unai Montes-Irueste of Cuentame. It came to my attention after discussion that was prompted by Seneca’s recent blog post on The Latino State of the Union. The material is still very relevant and worth sharing on the eve of the big DREAM act vote in the Senate tomorrow.
When the 112th Congress convenes on January 3, 2011, eight Latino Republicans will join the eighteen Latino Democrats on Capitol Hill. Raul Labrador, the first Latino Congressman elected from the State of Idaho, Jaime Herrera, the first Latina Congresswoman elected from the State of Washington, and newly elected Bill Flores from the State of Texas, in the House of Representatives, and Marco Rubio from the State of Florida in the Senate, will work to rebrand the GOP inside the beltway. Fresh from hard won campaign victories, Brian Sandoval, the first Latino elected Governor of Nevada, and Susana Martinez, the first Latina elected Governor of New Mexico, both also Republicans, will find themselves placed on the fast track to starring roles in 2012.
According to Latino Decisions, and Pew Hispanic, with the exception of Rubio, none of these Latinos candidates won the majority of the Latino vote. Rubio carried 55% of Latinos who cast ballots—a number that can be unpacked into two very different statistics: 78% of Cuban-Americans backed Rubio, only 40% of all other Latinos in Florida felt compelled to vote for him. And yet, the bottom line is that nearly one-third of the Latinos in Congress, and these two Latino Swing State Governors, will be members of a political party whose National Convention Platform on immigration and the rule of law reads as follows:
“In an age of terrorism, drug cartels, and criminal gangs, allowing millions of unidentified persons to enter and remain in this country poses grave risks to the sovereignty of the United States and the security of its people… The rule of law means guaranteeing to law enforcement the tools and coordination to deport criminal aliens without delay—and correcting court decisions that have made deportation so difficult. It means enforcing the law against those who overstay their visas, rather than letting millions flout the generosity that gave them temporary entry. It means imposing maximum penalties on those who smuggle illegal aliens into the US… real consequences, including the denial of federal funds, for self-described sanctuary cities… It does not mean driver’s licenses for illegal aliens, nor does it mean that states should be allowed to flout the federal law barring them from giving in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens, nor does it mean that illegal aliens should receive social security benefits, or other public benefits… We oppose amnesty. The rule of law suffers if government policies encourage or reward illegal activity. The American people’s rejection of en masse legalizations is especially appropriate given the federal government’s past failures to enforce the law.”
Given the fact that the plurality of conservative incumbents and Grand Old Party faithful throughout the American political landscape credit the rise of the Tea Party with the electoral victories that led to Republican control of the House of Representatives and the gain of 680 State Legislature seats—elected offices that will allow unilateral control in the process of drawing boundaries for 190 Congressional Districts across the USA—it is unlikely that the rise of Latino Republicans to levels of prominence in the Party, will lead to less Draconian measures. On the contrary, anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy proposals will run rampant like wildfire. Figures pouring kerosene will likely include Kentucky’s Rand Paul, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, Utah’s Mike Lee, and Massachusetts’ Scott Brown in the Senate, all of whom publicly thanked Tea Party activists for their volunteer efforts and financial contributions, heaping praise on the Tea Party’s “grassroots leadership,” despite endless evidence of behind-the-curtain, grasstops manipulation by front groups funded by the billionaire Koch brothers.
The first elephant in the room for Latinos who are concerned about keeping families together, and preserving the human dignity and rights of all immigrants is that the rise of Latino Republicans might just mean worse outcomes for Latino immigrants and their families. There are 6.6 million families in which a head of household and/or spouse migrated without authorization. 3.1 million American-born children live in households headed by undocumented immigrants. These mixed-status families live in constant danger of being torn apart under existing law. In order to stay with their family members, American citizens—those born and raised in the United States—are forced to relocate to a foreign country they have never known, because current immigration policies allow them no other viable option. What’s worse, these statistics only include mixed-status families that include citizens, they do not take into account mixed-status families comprised of households where undocumented migrants live with Permanent Residents, those with work permits, and foreign-born students invited to enroll in American academic institutions or professional development programs. According to Frank Sharry of America’s Voice, two-thirds of all mixed-status families, including those whose members belong to subpopulations just named, have been in the US for ten years or more.
This reality of a GOP, whose rhetoric and actions are hostile to migrants, is not just one impacting the viability of Comprehensive Immigration Reform proposals, and the chances of vital, urgent legislation such as the DREAM Act of receiving an up or down vote in 2011, if they fail to make it to the floor during the “lame duck” session of Congress convening during the brief window of time between now and the holiday season. This reality is one so dire that it even involves Latinos in powerful positions openly waging a war on immigrants in the most vulnerable positions. If you don’t believe this, please take a moment to look up newly elected Congressman Allen West’s Chief of Staff, Spanish-speaking Latina, Joyce Kaufman, on the search engine of your choosing. The Huffington Post highlights her saying, “We should hang you [illegal immigrants] and send your body back to where you came from, and your family should pay for it.” That’s just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, the wealth of egregious and incendiary material Kaufman is responsible for found on YouTube alone is too extensive to succinctly summarize.
Democrats had a nearly two-to-one advantage (64% versus 34%) over Republicans in 2010 House races among Latino voters. Moreover, with the exception of Florida, Democratic candidates won the Latino vote in all contests for which exit poll data exists. In Colorado, Tom Tancredo, the former Republican Congressman known for his especially polarizing immigration stance, joined the Governor’s race against Denver Mayor, Democrat John Hickenlooper. But Hickenlooper and Democratic Senate candidate Michael Bennett won the Latino vote by wide margins. They owe their victory to the electoral performance of low to mid propensity Latino voters mobilized via Get Out The Vote campaigns effectuated online by groups like Cuéntame, and on the ground by groups like Mi Familia Vota. In Arizona, although Democrat Terry Goddard lost the overall race to Republican Jan Brewer, he received 71% of the Latino vote. Latinos are solely responsible for saving Congressman Raul Grijalva from early retirement. And the fact that California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer won 65% of the Latino vote, California Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown won 64% of the Latino vote, and Nevada Democratic Senator Harry Reid won 68% of the Latino vote, serves to explain their victories as well. Latinos represented 8% of all voters in 2010, the same share as they did in 2006 when Democrats “took back” Congress from Republican control. In 2006, 69% of Latinos voted for Democratic candidates in Congressional district races, 30% voted for Republicans. In 2008, 67% of Latinos voted for Democrat Barack Obama, 31% cast ballots for Republican John McCain. More than 19 million Latinos were eligible to vote in the 2010 Midterms, more than at any other time—9% of all eligible voters nationwide in 2010 were Latinos, up from 8.6% in 2006.
Print press pundits and talking heads on cable news have largely focused their attention on the role Arizona’s SB 1070 racial profiling legislation played in solidifying Latino support for Democratic candidates in 2010. An Univision-AP poll published in May demonstrated that 67% of Latinos vehemently opposed the bill. Republican Governor Jan Brewer who signed it into law, and Republican State Senator Russell Pearce who wrote it, became symbols of GOP animus against the Latino community—proponents of racial profiling disguised as “reasonable suspicion,” enemies of Ethnic Studies courses in Arizona’s universities, and proponents of arbitrarily policing the “accents” of K-12 teachers, including monolingual English-speaking Latinos who, didn’t “sound American.” Pearce was named head of the State Senate despite his direct and undeniable connections to white supremacists; in spite of his pledge to defy the 14th Amendment, and cancel automatic citizenship for children born to undocumented mothers. Brewer won reelection despite incontrovertible evidence that she and 30 of SB 1070’s 36 cosponsors received campaign contributions from the for-profit prison industry that co-authored the bill and lobbied legislators to pass it. Make no mistake about it, SB 1070, was a vicious attack on Latinos without an ounce of redemption. The billboard Cuéntame erected in Phoenix reading “Get your papers out: Racial profiling ahead,” was spot on.
And yet, the second elephant in the room is that Latinos who are concerned about keeping families together, and preserving the human dignity and rights of all immigrants have not been rewarded for their overwhelming support of Democratic candidates. Instead of pursuing filibuster-proof Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and vital, urgent legislation such as the DREAM Act with the same all-encompassing zeal it employed in pursuit of Health Insurance Reform, this White House has instead focused on stopping undocumented immigrants from entering the United States and removing undocumented residents already in residence here. The idea that the Obama Administration is unquestionably pro-immigrant is erroneous. Claims made by Republicans, the Tea Party faithful, talk radio hosts, cable news personalities, conservative periodicals, and right-wing bloggers that the Obama Administration has neglected and underfunded border enforcement, in order to gain approval from the pro-amnesty crowd, are bold-faced lies:
The Obama Administration has thrown more drones and security personnel at the border than ever before. It made the E-Verify system, used to determine the immigration status of any part-time or fulltime employee, mandatory for all companies seeking federal contracts. It extended two aggressive enforcement programs: “Secure Communities,” making it mandatory for police to forward the identifying information of anyone they arrest to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and every county along the Southwest border, and “Operation Streamline,” allowing judges to engage in mass sentencing of immigrants caught crossing the border without authorization, instead of treating each migrant as an individual case. And instead of simply relying on Bush-era worksite raids, ICE under this White House has promoted a policy of “Silent Raids,” forcing employers to take action against workers whose Social Security number does not match up with a federal database. In the first half of the decade, (between 2000 and 2005) an average of 850,000 per year entered the US without authorization, by the end of 2009, that number had been reduced by nearly two-thirds, to 300,000. According to Douglas Massey, a Princeton University professor whose research focuses on migration, “Life’s gotten pretty miserable for immigrants in the United States,” noting that even for legal immigrants, whether or not they have relatives who are undocumented, the increased scrutiny has been highly stressful. ICE has deported more undocumented immigrants per year under the administration of President Barack Obama than under that of his predecessor, George W. Bush. ICE will deport more than 400,000 people this year alone, 25% more than the Bush Administration deported in 2007. ICE Director, John Morton, stated unequivocally that 400,000 deportations per year represent the absolute maximum number the processing, detention and immigration court system can handle.
In looking ahead to the role the Latino Vote will likely play in Presidential campaign of 2012, it is important for both Democrats and Republicans to reflect upon what occurred on November 2, 2010 in the Swing State of Nevada: 12% of registered voters in Nevada were Latino. Yet Latinos made up 16% of voters taking part in this election, a 13% increase since the last midterm. In the vast majority of states, the deadline to register to vote for this election was during the first week of October. By the time Pew Hispanic’s poll became public on October 5, declaring that 50% of Latino registered voters were planning on skipping out on the midterm election, the voter registration deadline had passed most everywhere. But not in Nevada: Thousands and thousands of voters registered in Nevada before the October 12 deadline thanks to Cuéntame’s online efforts, and a ground game executed by groups like the Hispanic Institute that registered 10,223 Latino voters in Clark County alone. 50% of Latino voters took advantage of early voting opportunities in Nevada, thus making shorter Election Day lines at polling places possible, and the likelihood of rapid responses to the vast majority of election protection issues probable. Nevada Latino voters rejected racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Latino political messages delivered by non-Hispanic whites. Nevada Latino voters rejected campaigns championing abstention from political participation, offered by Hispanic political strategists who wrongly believed Latinos could be manipulated by hypocrites, wolves in sheep’s clothing, and convinced to stay home on the basis of frustration with one political issue alone. Nevada Latino voters showed up in record numbers, and outperformed other voters when it counted.
Cuéntame and its partners will not allow the GOP to scapegoat Latinos, and use members of our community as political punching bags in their effort to win control of the White House in 2012. Regardless of whether or not the Republicans delivering the blows have Hispanic surnames, or Latino heritage. By the same token, we will not simply take Democrats at their word. While immigration is not the only issue that matters to Latinos, and it would be foolish to ignore the fact that millions of Latinos will benefit from policies championed by this White House, the Obama Administration’s reluctance to go all-in on legislative proposals such as the DREAM Act, that once boasted bipartisan support, has eroded the credibility and trust he earned on the campaign trail. Candidate Obama’s pledge to mend the broken immigration system stands in sharp contrast to President Obama’s hyper border enforcement and mass deportation policies.
In order to hold both Democratic and Republican feet to the fire, and win the war currently being waged on immigrants—the most vulnerable members of our community—we need to legal residents who are eligible to begin the process of naturalization, and those who are citizens to register to vote long before 2012: 52,000 Latino youth turn 18 every month. 8.5 million Latinos in Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Florida, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Texas alone, are already eligible to vote, but have yet to register. We have the power to more than double the Latino Vote by 2050. By introducing new voices into the political process, we will never again find ourselves forced to choose between candidates who demonize us with their rhetoric while demoralizing us with their policies, and those who make bold pronouncements while dragging their feet on our priorities until the final weeks before Election Day.