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La Jornada, Mexico

Obama and Immigration Reform

By Jorge Durand

Translated By Brian Perez

18 November 2012

Edited by Ketu­rah Hetrick

Mexico - La Jornada - Original Article (Spanish)

The immigration issue entered the electoral scene in 1993, when then-chief of the “migra” (INS) in El Paso, Silvestre Reyes, decided to launch Operation Blockade. He decided to detain undocumented immigrants who crossed the Rio Grande both unnoticed and in obvious fashion.

The success of the operation led to his fame and subsequent election as a Democratic Congressman since 1996. Combating irregular immigration has, in many cases, electoral political benefits, as in the case of the Arizona governor who relied on the infamous SB 1070 to win the election. But the best example of how an anti-immigration position pays off politically is Maricopa veteran and sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has won his position for the sixth time.

But all policy is not anti-immigration, especially now that the Latino vote led to Obama’s victory and the Republicans lost the state of Florida.

Indeed, Obama, who had been very timid in promoting immigration reform, had to step up and hit the gas at the end of his first term to ask for a vote of confidence from the Latino electorate. Through an executive order, he gave almost 2 million irregular migrant youth the possibility to fulfill their dream of becoming Americans through the Dream Act.

The so-called “Dreamers” could quite possibly vote in the future for those Democrats who opened the way for their legalization. They will also certainly remember, with some justified resentment, being treated so badly by the Republicans who closed the doors to them. Moreover, it was the politicized and educated youth who fought in the streets to have a role in society.

After this gesture of goodwill politics, Obama could appear before Latinos with a degree of assurance in rhetoric and follow normal election promises, including a push for immigration reform.

For his part, Romney chose a direct alliance with the conservative wing of his party and appointed tea party member Paul Ryan for the vice presidential position, limiting any possible arrangements for illegal immigrants. He dared not even support the Dreamers, who are more accepted in the U.S. and did not commit any crime when they came to the U.S. at very young ages; it was their parents who were at fault.

Additionally, Romney lost the Latino vote in Florida, which previously had given the Republicans solid triumphs. And that is a missile on the waterline for the Republican Party, who can see that the ship is sinking and know not what to do. In order to win over Latinos, Republicans need more than only the Cubans on their side. The electorate in Florida has changed dramatically in recent years. The old Cubans who arrived in the ‘50s or ‘60s are dying. The second generation of Cubans is completely different; they do not identify themselves in the Census as white, as their parents did, but as Hispanic or Latino.

Three Cuban-Americans have reached the Senate, two Republicans — Rubio, of Florida, and Cruz, of Texas — and a Democrat, Rob Mendez, of New Jersey. In addition, there are 28 seats filled with Latinos from different backgrounds in the House of Representatives. The Latino and Cuban lobby is getting stronger, but it is not entirely Republican.

The Republicans lost in Miami's Little Havana, which shows that the wealthy Cubans no longer live there and the people are now a conglomerate of Latin cultures: Cuban, Peruvian, Colombian, Nicaraguan and other nationalities.

Latinos gave the victory to Obama, but he knew how to work electorally with minorities. He won with the blacks with the simple factor of race and received 93 percent of their vote, 73 percent of the Asian vote and 71 percent of the Latino vote, which is the largest group. Romney won only among whites with 59 percent.

However, Obama's statement that supports immigration reform is no longer a decision made to simply win an election, but a partisan political strategy for medium and long-term goals.

The Pew Hispanic Center reports, with hard and reliable data, a new landscape of electoral demographic in the United States, where Latinos are the crucial factor for the greatest growth in potential voters.

First, Latinos are the youngest ethnic group, 27 years old on average, compared to a white electorate aged 42 years on average. The generational electoral replacement will be left at the charge of Latinos.

Second, Latinos are increasingly participating in the presidential elections: 9.7 million did so in 2008 and 12.5 million in 2012. They can still hit harder than they have, if they convince the 11.2 million Latinos eligible to vote who have not.

Third, it is estimated that there are 17.6 million Latinos age 18 who are believed to be future voters, implying a mass electorate to be conquered.

That is not all. There are more than 5.4 million Latinos who hold a resident visa and, if naturalized, could join the electorate. In fact, it is said that delays and waiting lists in the naturalization process favor Republicans because there are fewer votes for Democrats. This group has been systematically worked by various organizations trying to win them to his political camp.

Finally, there are 7.1 million undocumented Latinos that could eventually find a path to legalization. It would take several years to naturalize and gain suffrage, but eventually they would vote for the party that favored immigration reform.

In short, the electoral demographics in medium and long terms give a central role to the Latino vote. The election is behind us, and no longer about the interests of this or that candidate, but the party and its future. Now, more than ever, new opportunities are emerging for immigration reform.



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