Thursday, September 16, 2010

Immigration and the Latino Vote

I have never understood why being liberal on immigration has been linked with the Latino vote.  In fact, I think it is often more about the perception of the nature of the conversation than about the actual contents of it.  Both politicians and Latinos should read this post and think carefully about what is written.

For Latino voters.  Liberal immigration policies and lax enforcement actually hurt your self interest as legal, documented Latinos in this country.  By increasing the number of illegal aliens in our country, we increase the negative perception of Latinos in general, and the stereotypes of Latinos as falling into the category of illegal or undocumented.  If you are voting, you (or your family) presumably either came here the right way, or, at the very least, have since rectified your immigration status.  The jobs which undocumented immigrants are taking are jobs which, if you can legally vote, they are taking away from you just as much as from white or black Americans.  And, unfortunately, they are negatively affecting white and black Americans' views of you.

For politicians, bloggers, etc.  The way the immigration debate is carried out is part of why Latino voters are so uncomfortable with strict immigration policies.  Partly because of an extreme right fringe which is prejudiced and racist, partly by human nature to blame things on people who have obvious differences (race) from us, and partly by the attempts of the Left to make conservatives all look like the Klan reborn, the immigration debate too often becomes a racial conversation.  While most illegal entries are probably over the Mexican border, there are a lot of immigrants in our country who enter legally, but overstay their visas.  Many of these immigrants are white, and European.  They are often working, and receiving the benefit of publicly funded services, before their visas expire, and just continue on that way.

Also, for immigrants, and the first and second generations, understand that there is bound to be sympathy for the situations which cause Northward migration.  Many Latino immigrants are coming from countries where the political situation is unstable at best, dangerous at worst.  Many come from poverty.  Many who come from poverty have made great lives for themselves and their families since being here.  They want to see the same opportunity extended to other people.  The key to winning these votes is to focus on enforcing existing immigration policies, but not closing the door to immigration altogether.  A wall, both in reality and symbolically, is not just about illegal immigration.  It is a barrier between us and the several nations which make up our closest neighbors.  Latino voters, who feel a connection with their home countries, as well as can relate to the situation of those trying to enter our country, are unlikely to emotionally jump behind a wall or other attempts to cut off all immigration.

Finally, Latinos are not a unified, homogenous group of people or voters.  Latin America and the Caribbean consists of many national and ethnic groups.  Lumping all Latinos together does not encourage Latino voters to jump on board.  Moreover, special treatment for some Latino groups is unlikely to win the hearts and minds of Latino voters as a whole.  For instance, many Mexican and other Latin American groups are offended by the current (albeit unavoidable without either Puerto Rican independence or full accession into the U.S.) situation with Puerto Rico.  While Latinos from other parts of the hemisphere are accused of stealing jobs and benefits from Americans, and sometimes profiled by law enforcement or employers as "illegal," Puerto Ricans pay no taxes to the United States, but vote in federal elections and have unrestricted movement throughout the 50 states.  Another example is Cuban-Americans.  Although this has changed recently, for decades, Cubans have been treated differently than other Americans.  The policy was always that if a Cuban had one foot on American soil, they were automatically a refugee.  This was a political, more than humanitarian decision.  This can easily be seen by looking at the different treatment of people fleeing oppressive regimes in Chile, Nicaragua, and Haiti, where the U.S. government supported the governments.  Moreover, many immigrants come here seeking refuge from situations, whether political, military or economic, in their home countries.  The Republican Party and its pandering (especially representatives from Florida) to the Cuban-American interest groups does not help their perception with the wider Latino voting community.

So, how can Republicans win the Latino vote?

Focus the conversation.  Don't open yourselves up to being called (out loud or silently) racist.  Make it clear that the issue is about enforcement of existing laws, and national security, not about protecting our culture or our society from an outside, racially separate influence.  It is not about Spanish language or Latino culture.  It is not about whites losing majority status in some states, and possibly the nation as a whole.  It is about not condoning the open violation of our laws, and about ensuring our national security.

Make sure to speak about immigrants in general.  Illegal immigration is not all Mexican and Filipino.  Talk about not just border enforcement, but visa enforcement.  Rather than only deploying more troops and agents to the border, let's talk about visa enforcement in places like Las Vegas, Chicago, New York, and various tourist destinations around the country.

Encourage equal immigration standards.  Cubans and people from some parts of Africa should not be given blanket refugee status while people from other corrupt, unstable, or poverty-stricken parts of the world must go through standard immigration proceedings.

Overall, widen the conversation to include comprehensive immigration reform.  Although his name has become somewhat taboo, McCain did not receive a huge backlash from Latino voters because of his immigration policies.  In fact, even Bush didn't.  Along with enforcement, talk about modernizing and updating our laws to reduce the burden, and increase the efficiency, of legal immigration.   Don't just shut illegal immigrants out.  Provide a clear pathway for legal immigrants to come in.

This is how conservatives can demonstrate that anti-illegal immigration positions are just that, and not anti-Latino positions.

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