U.S. Elections: Latino Voters Lost in the Noise?

By Fulton Armstrong and Eric Hershberg

pew-latinos-for-blog

The U.S. general election on November 8 could give Latino voters their biggest chance yet to flex their political muscles.  The Pew Research Center has released new projections showing that a record 27.3 million Latino voters – 4 million more than in 2012 and 12 percent of the U.S. total – are eligible to vote this year.  Millennials (born since 1981) now make up 44 percent of Latino eligible voters, and Pew Research says that first-time voters represent one-fifth of those who say they are “absolutely certain” to vote.  (Only 9 percent of those over 36 are “absolutely certain.”)  Pew is agnostic, however, on whether their turnout in November will set a record.  Latino non-participation rates are generally high:  their turnout rate was only 48 percent in 2012.  Indeed, analysts at the New York Times cautioned last month that comparisons between Clinton’s support among Latinos now and Obama’s in 2012 – which are similar – indicate that she can’t take them for granted.

Latinos’ political preferences – traditionally Democratic except in the Cuban-American community, which itself is trending towards the Democrats – appear poised for an unprecedented surge in favor of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton next month.  The “Vote Predict” model of Latino Decisions shows Clinton stands to win 82 percent of the Latino vote, and her Republican counterpart, Donald Trump, 15 percent, with a 5.5 percent margin of error.  This 67-point gap breaks the previous record of a 51 percent split between President Bill Clinton and Senator Bob Dole in 1991, and the 71-to-27 difference between President Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012.  Press reports indicate that, despite unhappiness with aspects of the Obama Administration’s immigration policies which Clinton supported as Secretary of State, Latinos judge that Donald Trump’s policies of walls and expulsions call for active opposition.  Pew’s polls confirm that two-thirds of Millennial Latinos say their support for Clinton is more a vote against Donald Trump than for her.  The Republican Party’s own “autopsy” of its resounding 2012 electoral defeat underscored the importance of attracting Latino voters, who were dismayed by anti-immigrant and xenophobic stances they associated with the GOP.  In nominating Trump, the party fulfilled its strategists’ worst fears.

An overwhelming Latino majority for Clinton seems almost certain.  Political scientists increasingly predict that their rejection of the Republican brand may endure for generations to come, with profound implications for the viability of the Republican Party beyond the Congressional district and state levels.  Latinos may not get credit as the crucial swing vote in the presidential race, but they could be crucial in other contests.  The Latino vote could prove critical to the outcome of key Senate races in states such as Florida, North Carolina, and Arizona.  While the absolute number of Latino voters appears likely to rise, turnout in this unusual – even unsightly – presidential contest is one of the most unpredictable variables confounding polling experts, who see signs that many Americans’ faith in democracy and its processes is dropping, at least temporarily.  A survey reported in the Washington Post, for example, showed that fully 40 percent of 3,000 registered voters say they “have lost faith in American democracy,” while just 52 percent say they have not.  An astounding 28 percent said they probably would not accept the legitimacy of the outcome if their candidate loses.  These trends, along with Trump’s allegations that the election may be rigged, make the timing of the coming-of-age of Latino Millennials truly ironic in this extraordinary election year.  Many Latinos, or their parents or grandparents, left polarized, imperfect democracies and, after earning U.S. citizenship and the right to vote, find themselves in a polarized, imperfect democracy with deep historical roots but an uncertain near-term future.

October 20, 2016

What do Latin Americans Make of the U.S. Election Campaign?

By Fulton Armstrong

Trump Wall Pope

Photo Credit: Daryl Lawson and Pingnews (modified) / YouTube and Flickr / Creative Commons

Remarks about Mexico and immigration by Donald Trump – leader in the U.S. Republican Party’s presidential nomination contest – have drawn intense criticism from some Latin American leaders, but their underlying concern may be about the implications of the broad support for his populist rhetoric regardless of who wins the party’s nomination in July.  Media throughout the hemisphere are reporting highlights of the U.S. campaign, focusing mostly on immigration and its connotations for the region.  Some reports touch on the challenges to unity facing both major U.S. political parties, such as Democratic pre-candidate Bernie Sanders’s pressure on the previously unbeatable Hillary Clinton.

Most Latin American attention has gone to Trump and his statements.  His characterization of many Mexican immigrants as criminals, drug dealers, and rapists; his statement that Mexicans “bring tremendous infectious disease” into the United States; and his pledge to make Mexico pay billions of dollars for a new high wall on the border have drawn sharp rebukes from across Latin America.

  • Mexican President Peña Nieto, who initially remained on the sidelines when Trump brought the immigration issue to the table in a cynical fashion, recently compared Trump with Hitler and Mussolini. Former President Calderón called him a “racist” and lamented that he is “sowing anti-American hatred around the world.”  And his predecessor, Vicente Fox, said on U.S. television that Mexico wouldn’t pay for “that f**king wall.”
  • Argentina-born Pope Francis also criticized Trump. “A man who thinks only of walls is not a Christian,” he said.  Former Colombian President and OAS Secretary General Gaviria told Miami Herald columnist Andrés Oppenheimer that Trump “has the typical style of a Latin American caudillo,” scaring people and putting himself up as “the solution to all their problems.”
  • Ecuadoran President Correa said, “Trump’s rhetoric is so clumsy, so vulgar, that it will stir reaction in Latin America” – which would be “very bad for the United States” but positive for Latin American “progressive tendencies.”
  • In Venezuela, President Maduro has condemned Trump’s “threats” against Latin America as “brutal” and termed him a “thief full of hate.” On the street, however, comparisons between Chávez and Trump are part of daily conversation.

Racial slurs and rhetoric about walling out immigrants are, naturally, hair-trigger issues not just for Latin Americans.  If the Trump juggernaut rolls on, however, anxieties about its implications are likely to sweep across the hemisphere – not necessarily because he will win the general election in November, but because the broad support for his rhetoric about walls and deportations suggests a widening gap between the United States and the region.  Moreover, doubts about the credibility of the U.S. political model – already battered by the contested presidential election of 2000 and the decade-long gridlock in Washington between the executive and legislative branches of government – could multiply, especially if campaign violence spreads beyond Trump rallies.  Trump’s pledge to resume “enhanced interrogation” and “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding” of alleged Islamic extremists could further undercut U.S. moral authority.  Dismayed Republican leaders are privately floating the idea of rewriting the rules for their party convention this summer to overturn Trump’s primary victories and block his candidacy in the general election, but that too would be a spectacle that could undermine U.S. image in Latin America.  Moreover, other Republican candidates’ views may compound the problem.  Senator Ted Cruz is proud of having shut down the U.S. Government to make a political point during a skirmish with President Obama, and he and Senator Marco Rubio are fervent supporters of their party’s decision to refuse to meet with the President’s nominee to replace a recently deceased Supreme Court nominee, let alone give him or her a hearing and floor vote.  Ecuadoran President Correa’s remarks about the U.S. campaign empowering “progressive” forces is probably wishful thinking on his part, but Trump’s populism and his party’s questionable options could indeed appear contrary to some Latin American countries’ struggle to rid themselves of populist, authoritarian-style leaders.

March 14, 2016

The U.S. Immigration Debate: Legalization or Citizenship?

By Dennis Stinchcomb

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Boehner has again hit the brakes on immigration reform, claiming widespread doubt among House Republicans that President Obama “can be trusted to enforce our laws.”  The dramatic about-face came only a week after Boehner and other House leaders released a one-page declaration of “Standards for Immigration Reform,” renewing hope that a legislative compromise could be reached this year.  According to press reports, reasons for the reversal included fear among a majority of House Republicans that party infighting over the legalization of the country’s 11 million unauthorized immigrants would disrupt the Republican base and imperil their perceived advantage in the upcoming midterm elections.  Despite rhetoric that places the blame on the president’s alleged unwillingness to implement certain unspecified laws, the immediate concern for House Republicans is not one of substance but of timing, according to Republican members.

The Republicans’ “Standards” document endorsed a vaguely defined program that would grant legal status to certain categories of unauthorized immigrants, but stopped short of a special pathway to citizenship like the one outlined in the Senate bill currently at the center of discussion.  What they mean by “legal status” remains uncertain.  Some Republicans have suggested that newly legalized immigrants would be permanently barred from naturalization; others insist that undocumented immigrants, once legalized, would be able to access normal avenues to citizenship (i.e., work visas, marriage to a citizen spouse, etc.) if available to them.  The White House and House Democrats have expressed willingness to listen to any emerging proposal that would offer limited legal status.  Many Senate Democrats and immigration advocates argue, however, that legalization without eligibility for naturalization is too great a concession and would create a permanent underclass of millions of legalized immigrants unable to access the rights and privileges of citizenship.

House Republican leaders appear to judge that – at least for now – they cannot sell legalization to their own caucus and seal the deal for immigration reform.  Even if they were to reach a consensus that some form of legalization is good, a majority of House Republicans either openly reject any sort of “amnesty” or consider addressing such a controversial issue too risky in an election year, especially before Congressional primaries.  If and when the Republican Party is ready to deal, willingness on the part of Democrats to reach a compromise will depend largely on the type of legalization Republicans are prepared to support.  If legalization without an explicit pathway to citizenship is the only way to halt record deportations, most Democrats appear willing to make the concession.  One thing is clear: clogged immigration courts, nearly 2 million deportations, and $17.9 billion spent annually on immigration enforcement have not translated into the bargaining chip the Obama administration had hoped for – nor have such actions given the lie to Republican accusations that he cannot be trusted to enforce the law.  And with no specific proposals on the table, Democrats, the American people, and millions of undocumented immigrants are left guessing what House Republicans mean by legalization. 

Righting a Wrong: Family Reunification and Immigration Reform

Photo credit: mdfriendofhillary / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: mdfriendofhillary / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

As debate around the immigration reform bill is expected to heat up on the Senate floor, a contested provision allowing for some non-criminal deportees to return to the United States remains intact. For how long, no one is quite sure. The controversial measure, outlined in Section 2101 of the current bill, would permit deported immigrants with children, parents, or spouses who are currently U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents to petition for a waiver to return to the U.S. and apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status. While reprieves have been granted to undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S. in the past—under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and President Obama’s DACA memorandum last July—never before has a Congressional or Executive effort to overhaul immigration policy contemplated the return of deportees.

The “right to return” provision survives even as the rate of deportations continues to soar. Since 2009, the Obama administration has removed 1.5 million unauthorized immigrants and is on track to surpass 2 million by the end of fiscal year 2013. According to recent federal data unearthed through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, 205,000 undocumented immigrants with at least one U.S. citizen child were deported between July 2010 and September 2012, representing an average of 90,000 per year. The contentious deportee measure stems from acknowledgement on the part of the bill’s authors of the destructive effects that these enforcement policies have had on American families, particularly U.S. citizen children. A spokesman for Senator Marco Rubio, one of the bill’s most conservative drafters, noted that the Senator had “personally concluded that giving parents a chance to reunite with their children was the right thing to do.” The toll that family separation takes on the mental and physical health of children has only recently attracted serious attention, with studies suggesting links between parental deportation and depression, separation anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and poor cardiovascular health.

Central to the compromise reached by the bill’s sponsors – known as the Gang of Eight – is the question of how to prioritize family reunification without shattering the bill’s prospects. The argument from the right has been that in promoting family-based immigration, the 1986 reform prompted the larger waves of immigration seen since then. In response to these concerns over “chain migration,” however exaggerated they may be, the proposed legislation calls for a gradual move away from the family-based immigration model, eliminating some 90,000 annual visas given to the siblings and married adult children of legal immigrants and granting up to 110,000 visas to immigrants skilled in science and math. Democrats have viewed this shift toward a more comprehensive “merit-based” system as a necessary compromise, but have built into the bill measures such as the “right to return” as well as an expedited path to citizenship for DREAMers (the children of unauthorized immigrants) and a clearing of family-based immigration backlogs – all of which vindicate the importance of the nuclear family. It is time for Senators from the right to follow the lead of Republican drafters and make some concessions of their own, including the Gang of Eight’s compromise to allow for the reunification of families torn apart by a decade of immigration enforcement policies run amok. Immigration reform must have as its foundation a concern for family unity and a respect for what families contribute to our society. It should also take into account the welfare of 4.5 million U.S. citizen children in mixed-status homes who will be better equipped to contribute to our society if they have the opportunity to grow up in the presence of their parents.

Washington Politics: Fast and Very Furious

Photo by Ryan J. Reilly via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license

The operation codenamed “Fast and Furious” remains a hot topic in Washington two years after it went awry.  Conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the operation was intended to monitor the flow of weapons – through a “controlled delivery” – from Arizona gun dealers into the illegal channels by which tens of thousands of arms clandestinely enter Mexico each year.  Tracking the arms would allow the U.S. Government to disrupt the network.  However, ATF lost track of the weapons – and they reached their intended buyers.  The failure was made worse when traces showed that two of the weapons were used to kill a U.S. Border Patrol agent near the Mexican border in December 2010.

While both political parties in Washington have expressed disappointment, the Republicans have made the failed operation the centerpiece of efforts to weaken Attorney General Eric Holder (ATF is an agency of the Department of Justice, over which the Attorney General presides) and to discredit President Obama, according to numerous press reports.  The vote in the House of Representatives last week [[June 28]]to find Holder “in contempt” – for not handing over all of ATF’s internal documents on Fast and Furious that the Republicans demanded – was a party-line vote.  Many Democrats walked out of the chamber.

The political maneuvering around Fast and Furious has nothing to do with foreign policy, but the weakening of ATF undermines what modest efforts were under way to stanch the flow of illicit arms into Mexico and Central America.  “Controlled deliveries” are a standard operation for intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, and every agency involved in border issues has suffered similar mistakes.  ATF is the smallest such agency (2,500 special agents compared to FBI’s 13,400 and DEA’s 5,500) and is therefore more vulnerable to the internecine backstabbing.  In addition, ATF’s enforcement of laws relating to the use, manufacture, and possession of firearms often puts it at odds with American politicians who feel the agency threatens their interpretation of the gun rights under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  The attacks on the ATF appear intended to weaken enforcement of U.S. law and embarrass the Attorney General and the President.  The obstacles to a sound policy of limiting the flow of weapons into Latin America are evidenced by the virulence of the debate over Fast and Furious.