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Immigration bashing to reach fever pitch as GOP primary focuses upon Michigan, Ohio


Op-Ed by Alan Abrams, La Prensa Senior Correspondent


La Prensa readers in the Midwest will be closely watching the results of the Michigan primary on February 28, 2012 (followed by the Ohio primary on March 6). But a panel of voting-trend experts believe that every Latino voter in the country should also be listening to the rhetoric and looking at the Arizona race that same day, Feb. 28th.


That was the message of a February 9 press conference on Latino voters and the politics of immigration sponsored by America’s Voice, one of the leading national organizations seeking comprehensive immigration reform.

As the four leading GOP candidates vie with one another to convince voters that they are the conservative saviors of the party, the anti-immigration fervor will surely reach new heights. After all, Arizona was first out of the gate with SB 1070, the now-challenged restrictive immigration law.

Pete Wilson


Thanks to the impact of social media, the anti-immigrant comments made in Arizona will “not be said in a vacuum,” says Frank Sherry, executive director of America’s Voice. He believes that is an important lesson for Latinos across the country to remember in November’s general election.


As the conference pointed out, the names of the politicians who are endorsing the candidates as well as those the candidates have embraced are further clues to how far to the right the candidates are willing to go on the issue of immigration.


On February 8, in an event not widely reported by mainstream media, GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney proudly announced his candidacy had received the endorsement of former California governor and Senator Pete Wilson.


No, your memory isn’t playing tricks on you. That’s the same Pete Wilson who rode to reelection in 1994 on the back of the draconian Proposition 187, the grandfather of all the subsequent anti-immigration laws passed this decade in Arizona, Alabama and other states.


Although Pete Wilson won the battle, the GOP lost the war.


Conference participant Gary Segura is a professor at California’s Stanford University and the principal of Latino Decisions, the polling organization. During the call, he told reporters that Wilson’s backing of Proposition 187 is widely credited with pushing Latino voters away from the GOP. This resulted in tilting the political balance to make what was formerly a swing state into one that is today almost solidly Democratic.


Although Proposition 187, which pandered to the worst fears of uninformed voters by targeting the state’s undocumented immigrants, was eventually struck down by the courts, the damage to the GOP was its legacy. By maintaining that Latinos were irrelevant to California, it reversed a then-slow but steady trend of Latinos supporting the GOP.


Governor Susana Martínez (New Mexico) and former Governor Jeb Bush (Florida) have recognized this shift and has warned the GOP to tone down its anti-immigrant rhetoric. Bush is married to a Latina. 


“Immigration is inseparable from the Latino vote,” said Segura, noting that 87 percent of Latinos in California at the time of Proposition 187 were within two generations of the immigrant experience – their parents or grandparents were born outside of the United States. A majority knew someone who was undocumented, and many of those knew someone who had been subjected to immigration proceedings. But more importantly, many Latinos had themselves been swept up in enforcement policies such as racial profiling.


“Those attacks mobilized the Latino electorate,” said Segura.


The result? After Proposition 187 was declared unconstitutional, fear and hopelessness was replaced with a massive mobilization. As Eliseo Medina, International Secretary-Treasurer of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), pointed out, “In the first four years after Proposition 187, the growth of the Latino vote outpaced the general population five to one. In 1994, Latinos comprised eight percent of the voters, today it is 19 percent and growing. There were 1.1 million new registered voters in the 1990s, and one million of them were Latinos.”


That was enough to change the complexion of California’s government. Today, all of the state’s top elected officials are Democrats, and Democrats control the state legislature.


“Pete Wilson is a hero of the Latino community,” said Segura. “He contributed to registering more Latino voters then anyone in American history. And one wonders why Romney would seek the endorsement of someone who hasn’t held office for 14 years and who is toxic to Latino voters. Romney is either getting bad advice or giving up on the Latino vote.”


Medina echoed Segura’s statement and added that in his “46 years as an organizer, Pete Wilson is the best organizer of Latino voters ever seen in terms of Latinos becoming citizens, registering to vote, and turning out on election day.


“The Latino vote can make the difference between winning and losing in states where Latinos have a considerable presence such as Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and New Mexico, states where the Latino vote is growing faster than the general public. Soon more states will start to look like California.


“Romney must have flunked history in school because he hasn’t learned the lessons. To win, you need to attract voters to you, not drive them away, said Medina, adding “To paraphrase another recent California governor, Hasta la Vista, Mitt.”


It should also be noted that Romney has repeatedly stated on his Campaign Trail that he would veto any DREAM  Act.


Other speakers such as David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Las Vegas, and Robert Preuhs, a political science professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver, concurred.


However, Romney hasn’t stopped with Pete Wilson. He has also embraced Texas congressman Lamar Smith and Kris Kobach, two other leading anti-immigrant movement luminaries. The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State, as the man behind the scenes of the new state anti-immigrant laws.


Alas, Romney isn’t alone. In response to a question from La Prensa, Latinos now know that former congressman Tom Tancredo, an architect of anti-immigration sentiment, threw his support behind Rick Santorum, the winner of the February Colorado GOP primary.


So who can we expect disgraced Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio to endorse now that his first choice, Texas Governor Rick Perry is out of the race?


A key element in this story is the demographic change in the United States. As professor Segura concluded, “The white share of the electorate has declined to 70 percent now from the mid-80s. There has been a drain of white voters out of the system as compared to Latino and Asian-American groups.” And this has the potential of tipping the electorate.


Although Latino voters did not play a key role in the primaries in states like Colorado, November will surely be different.


There’s another message here for the GOP. Adding a Hispanic name like that of Cuban-born U.S. Senator from Florida Mario Rubio to the GOP ticket as the vice president candidate won’t fool Latino voters.


Romney and the GOP might consider paying a little more attention to the axiom of Spanish-born philosopher George Santayana (Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás): Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.


Copyright © 1989 to 2012 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 02/14/12 19:01:49 -0800.





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