Election 2004  
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Immigration Reform Sabotage

If the Republican leadership thinks they can gain Latino votes by praising immigrants publicly, even as they work privately to pull the plug on any immigration reforms, they are underestimating the savviness of Latino voters.
 
 
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Two weeks ago, as President Bush declared that "el sueno americano es para todos" (the American Dream is for everyone) in a satellite speech to the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the White House was working behind the scenes to sabotage any immigration reform bill from coming to a vote in Congress.

According to reports from the Wall Street Journal and statements by Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), the White House asked Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to prevent the immigration bill AgJOBS from being voted on in the Senate. The bill, sponsored by Craig, would have provided a pathway to legal status for up to 500,000 agricultural workers. It had wide bipartisan support from the agricultural industry and from unions, and was backed by 63 out of 90 senators, including 26 Republicans.

But if the Republican leadership thinks they can gain Latino votes by praising immigrants publicly, even as they work privately to pull the plug on any immigration reforms, they are underestimating the savviness of Latino voters, says Maria Echaveste, President of the Nueva Vista Group.

"Latino voters and immigrant voters are not easily fooled," she said in a National Immigration Forum held on Friday.

In fact, Latinos have been following the progress of immigration reform bills AgJOBS (the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act of 2003) and the DREAM Act (the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) on the front pages of Spanish-language newspapers and on Spanish TV and radio stations. They have also tracked the lack of progress of the much-publicized immigration reform bill proposed by President Bush in January.

Latino voters can see through the political rhetoric, according to a poll conducted after Bush announced his proposal early this year. The poll, conducted by Bendixen and Associates and released by NCM, found that a majority of Latinos (63 percent) said it was a valid criticism that President Bush does not care about immigrants and that his plan is only aimed at getting Latino voters to support him in the 2004 election.

Latino voters continue to feel ignored by political candidates. In a Zogby Poll released on June 23 of this year by the National Council of La Raza, 60 percent of Latino registered voters said the political candidates are ignoring the issues most important to the Latino community.

According to the poll, there is strong agreement across all Latino subgroups that undocumented immigrants that have lived, worked, and paid taxes in the United States should be provided a path to U.S. citizenship.

Whether the White House's attempts to block immigration reform could produce a backlash against Bush among Latino voters remains to be seen.

But it wouldn't be the first time, says Cecilia Muñoz, Vice President of the National Council of La Raza. "When immigration heats up as an issue and there is anti-immigrant rhetoric, regardless of party affiliation, ethnic and immigrant voters get angry and vote. In the past this has been an issue that motivated people to turn out and vote."

"The White House has yet again broken its promise to Latinos," adds Echaveste. "The Republican leadership and the Bush White House are in danger of finally having people across the country understand that."

Despite Bush's pro-immigrant rhetoric, Eliseo Medina, vice president of Service Employees International Union in Los Angeles, says Latinos have seen raids in their communities, a climate of fear among immigrants, deportations to Mexico and the blocking of immigration reform bills.

"If the Bush campaign wants to win Latino and immigrant votes," Medina said, "I would suggest they save the millions of dollars on advertising and instead enact immigration reform."

"Of course," writes Pilar Marrero in a July 19 editorial in La Opinión, "it is much easier to give grandiose speeches about how great immigrants are, and then not do anything to bring the majority of the country towards an understanding of the complex problem of immigration. That would mean exercising leadership."

PNS contributor Elena Shore ( eshore@pacificnews.org) works for NCM, an association of over 600 print, broadcast and online ethnic media organizations founded in 1996 by PNS and members of ethnic media.