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The so-called “Latinos” and/or “Hispanics” are expected to turn out 9.3 million voters next November, according to a Pew “Hispanic” Foundation survey, 1.7 million more than in 2004. Organizations such as the Southwest Voter Education Project and the Willie Velazquez Institute are spreading the hooey that voting will hold back the anti-immigration tsunami sweeping across the U.S. and are signing up new voters the moment they swear in as citizens.
But how many of these new citizens actually get to vote is in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services division which claims an 18 month backlog in processing citizenship applications. In a Bush administration gambit to monkey wrench a predicted avalanche of new Latino voters, Citizenship and Immigration Services laid off 800 workers on the pretext of “cost-cutting” last spring. Meanwhile, Homeland Security is hiring thousands to fill out the ranks of the Border Patrol and Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) to deport potential voters.
With or without the new citizens, Latino/Hispanics counted for 11 per cent of the vote in New York in the 2004 primaries, 9 per cent in Florida, and 16 per cent in California where their numbers will increase to 40 per cent of the electorate by mid-century. Because Mexicans, the overwhelming majority of Latino voters, are no longer concentrated in border states, they now have potential clout in such far-flung entities as Georgia, Minnesota, Oregon, North Carolina, and Nevada. But who actually gets registered and goes to the polls when just going to the store is an invitation to deportation in America these days, is another matter.
Consolidating Latino/Hispanic voters into a bloc is an illusion. Latino-Hispanics are split on many levels. Nations of origin are distinct – perhaps 29 million Mexicans and U.S. citizens of Mexican descent are dominant in this mix but regional differences water down cohesion. Central Americans and Caribbean immigrants are equally as uncohesive – Haitians and Hondurans are not necessarily on the same page. South Americans, chiefly Ecuadorians, Colombians, and Brazilians, don’t even speak the same languages back in their old countries and Cubans in Florida are a whole other can of worms. Because their anti-Castro antics were so pertinent to Washington’s Cold War psychosis, Cuban “gusanos” have disproportionate influence even in Florida where they are a minority among other Latino/Hispanic immigrants.
Like the general voting population, Latinos/Hispanics are sharply divided between generations and across class, gender, and race lines – Afro-Latinos have joined the migration swim north in increasing numbers.
The going myth is that immigration issues bond Latinos and Hispanics into a voting bloc but Puerto Ricans who wield substantial numbers in east coast cities and Chicago are citizens and immigration is not a core concern. While first generation new citizens may have residual sympathy with the indocumentados pouring in from the south, second and third generations have a greater stake in the American pie and often feel that the newcomers, with whom they compete in a diminishing job market, should be sent back to where they came from. Despite their overriding concern with immigration issues, the undocumented don’t vote.
Until the U.S. immigration crackdown in the wake of the 9/11 terror attack, Mexicans had a poor track record for nationalizing as citizens and voters – over 4,000,000 Mexicans living north of the border retain “green card” resident alien status but the Migra offensive is pushing more and more greencarders to convert to the Stars & Bars. Mexicans and other Latino-Hispanic alien residents have voting rights in their own country although Mexico’s electoral mechanism effectively denies suffrage to its citizens in the U.S.
With the debacle in Iraq being replaced by the economic doomsday looming on the horizon as the crucial campaign issue, immigration has become a fallback for 2008 presidential hopefuls – when in doubt, bash the immigrants. On the Democrats’ side of the aisle, the candidates’ voting records on immigration are redolent with bad faith. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama voted for the ill-fated Kennedy-McCain immigration reform measure that mandated construction of hundreds of miles of walls along the southern border and the deportation of nearly 5,000,000 Latinos/Hispanics to their home countries, the largest forced repatriation of a population in the history of North and South America. John Edwards, to his questionable credit, voted with Republican “social conservatives” to kill the bill which died a dog’s death on the Senate floor. Significantly, no Democratic candidate, including drop-out Bill Richardson, the scion of a Mexican mother and U.S. businessman father who grew up wealthy in Mexico City and officially dubbed himself “the Latino (Hispanic) candidate”, has ever dared to utter the “A” word – Amnesty for the 12,000,000 plus undocumented workers who hide in the nooks and crannies of America, a low wage workforce that has kept the U.S. economy booming – at least until the sub-prime disaster put the banks in default.
Nonetheless, the Latino-Hispanics are swelling the Democratic Party’s rank and file in ever-greater numbers – Pew “Hispanic” reports that while 48 per cent of Latino-Hispanics queried declared their affinity for the Dems in 2006, 56 per cent were on board by 2007.
Meanwhile, Latino/Hispanic Republicans are an endangered species. Bush bamboozled a respectable 34 per cent of L/H voters to back his candidacy in 2000 and those numbers rose to 40 per cent by 2004 – if the numbers are to be believed. But Pew put those Latino-Hispanics embracing the Republican Party at 28 per cent in 2006, a figure that sunk to 23 per cent last year. Given the nativist taint of the Republican field, those preferences will dip even deeper in 2008.
Of eight candidates that started out of the GOP gate, two proved outright Nazis when it came to immigration – Duncan Hunter, the San Diego congressperson and father of the separation wall, and Tom Tancredo, the Colorado Klansman who wants to shut down public libraries that stock books in Spanish because indocumentados might read them, were both engineers of HB 4437 sponsored by Wisconsin right-winger James Sensenbrenner that made being in the U.S. without papers a felony crime.
Law & Order Judge Fred Thompson (drop out) was right behind dropouts Hunter and Tancredo, advocating the rounding up of alien “criminals” and their imprisonment. Mormon Mitt Romney beats up on immigrants at every stump speech and Ron Paul is a big fan of the Border Wall and internment camps for the indocs.
Rudy Giuliani (drop out) who stands accused of turning New York into a “sanctuary city” (ask Amadou Diallo about that) was gung-ho to send them all back to where they came from. Giuliani was for bolstering the Migra by the installation of an “electronic border” but what he neglected to tell voters was that he once owned a 12 per cent share in Skywatch, which has partnered with Raytheon to sell their “electronic border” technology to Homeland Security for untold millions.
The two purported immigration liberals in the Republican pack shed their past inclinations at the speed of sound. Mike Huckabee, who provided scholarships and health care to the children of “criminal” immigrants while governor of Arkansas, went Minuteman with a vengeance. Huckabee maintained that legalizing abortion encouraged illegal immigration by killing off potential U.S. workers. John McCain is, of course, saddled with co-sponsorship of the defunct Senate immigration reform measure that was ultimately so corrupted immigration advocates could not support it.
But no matter who wins the Republican sweepstakes, Latino-Hispanics are focused on the Dems – and, indeed, only one Dem Ms Clinton,AKA Hilaria. Clinton, who opposes granting drivers licenses to the undocumented, is backed by a crack team of Tio Tacos chaired by Chicano dinosaur Henry Cisneros whose “Juntos Con Hilaria” is out beating the barrios for votes. When Hilaria dined on tacos of carne asada at King Taco in east L.A., Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was her waiter. Later, she cut a half hour infomercial with a barrio family – both Hilaria and Obama are spending big on Spanish-speaking TV and radio.
For his part, Obama has adopted Cesar Chavez’s cry of “Si Se Puede”, only in the English tongue – “Yes, We Can!” – for his white Anglo audiences.
Nevada with 20 per cent of the voters catalogued as Latino/Hispanic (Cuban mobsters, Mexican hotel maids) was supposed to be the first mano a mano between Hilaria and Baracko but Clinton went into the match-up with a 32 point lead in voter preferences according to the Las Vegas Review Journal and doubled that in the caucuses. The gender thing worked like a charm among Latinas (Hispanas?) for Hilaria – upwardly mobile Latina school administrators, charter schoolers, and education workers, who are increasingly the power brokers in Latio-Hispanic communities across the country, won her the powerful teachers’ union endorsement.
But gender is not the only factor in the Latino-Hispanic stampede to Clinton. The race card is really her strong suit when it comes to wooing Latino voters. Latinos and Afro-Americans have fought for crumbs over jobs and housing for generations. Black resentment runs high against perceived gains by the Latino-Hispanics and no effective Black-Latino coalition has ever been built to overcome the bitterness. The angry recriminations between Black hotel workers and Latina women at the Nevada caucuses was not a good omen for reconciliation.
On the other hand, Latino-Hispanics have their own brand of racial profiling. Obama, light-skinned and whitified as he is, is still referred to as “El Moreno” (the Brown One) in the Mexican press. Moreover, many Mexicans, brown as they are, consider themselves to be white. “Do you really think the barrio is ready to vote for a black man for president?” Arturo M., a Mexico-born, Los Angeles-based immigration activist, asks a U.S. reporter incredulously.
Super Tuesday (Feb 5) is being billed by Bill Richardson as a “Latino primary” – with big Hispanic states like California, New Mexico, and Arizona on the docket, how the Latino-Hispamic votes shake out could decide who the next occupant of the White House will be.
JOHN ROSS is in Mexico City. He can be reached at email@example.com