“This is the first time that I can recall that a major campaign, a Congressional campaign, has had a Latino agenda on its platform,” said Torres. “The DREAM Act was certainly one of those, as was economic empowerment for our community. What we take away from that is we now have an opportunity to move the Latino agenda forward, with a unified effort across the district.”
The DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) would have provided conditional permanent residency to certain undocumented immigrants who graduate from U.S. high schools, arrived in the U.S. as minors, and lived state-side for five continuous years. Others having served in the military or attended a college or university in the United States, each for two years, would qualify for temporary residency for a six-year period. Some studies cited such amnesty as generating new tax revenue and reduced federal deficits as a result of the legislation.
President Barack Obama has called on Congress to pass the DREAM Act, along with sending him a comprehensive immigration reform proposal.
“This says we get the opportunity to work together, collaborate together, to come together to push a common theme,” said Torres. “I think we can see the potential in that. The race gave Latinos the opportunity to be a voice in a congressional race. The feedback I’m getting after the election is that something was accomplished for our community.”
However, overall low voter turnout in the March primary means that fewer Latinos actually went to the polls. Torres openly acknowledged Latinos won’t be taken seriously if they sit on the sidelines.
“We still have a bunch of work to do in getting our Latino community members registered,” he admitted. “Even more than that, (we need to) stay in touch with those registered so they become active voters and an actual part of the election process. We need to engage Latinos throughout the process, not necessarily when an election takes place. So I think the DREAM Act gives us an opportunity to do just that.”
The two incumbent Congressional representatives crisscrossed the NorthCoast of Ohio in recent weeks, trying to keep their political hopes alive in a district redrawn by the GOP specifically to pit the two Democrats and friends against each other in the 2012 campaign.
With her decisive victory, Ms. Kaptur will face off against Republican Samuel “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher in November. The new Ninth District now stretches along the Lake Erie shoreline in a ribbon-thin line from Toledo to Cleveland. But to keep the Latino agenda in the forefront of candidates and elected officials in Ohio and elsewhere, Torres stated it will take action, not mere words.
“It will take people who are in leadership positions, whether elected or not, other Latinos in positions of authority, to be able to make sure Latinos are engaged in the process,” he said. “I think we need to go into our churches, Latino associations, in order to get people registered. I don’t think Latinos can afford to wait on any one person, whether it’s Democrat or Republican to engage them in the process.”
Toledo activist Ramón Pérez agrees.
Torres pointed out he recently traveled to Columbus for an Obama for America organizational meeting, where more than 600 political activists were in attendance.
“I could count on one hand the number of Latinos who were there,” he said. “I looked at the leadership of the campaign effort, and we’re not represented in either Democratic or Republican organizations. We shouldn’t wait for that to happen. We need to take it upon ourselves to make sure we’re a priority.”
Torres essentially issued a call to action for Latinos from Toledo to Lorain to Cleveland to spearhead such an effort to get their community more politically active and on the same page.
“The majority of people in Toledo were not in our camp and had to be persuaded, convinced that his platform was good for Latinos,” said Torres of the Kucinich campaign. “Sometimes that requires you go against the grain and I think in this situation that happened.”
The Toledo native stated President Obama’s re-election effort affords another opportunity for Latinos to step forward and become more politically active.
“This affords a chance for us to secure our interests in the campaign,” he explained. “We need to be vocal about that. We can’t afford to not just assume that we can wait another four years that the administration will take up the issues of our community. I was encouraged the State of the Union addressed immigration reform, but Latinos need to make sure they’re included in the process when they come to our homes and to our neighborhoods and to our community.”
Some Latinos already have joined Torres by adding their voices to the debate. For example, Lorain resident José Méndez wrote a blistering opinion piece for the Huffington Post website just prior to the March primary, taking Ms. Kaptur to task for ignoring her Latino constituency in the past. Méndez stated that should change with redistricting, as more Latinos now live in the new Ninth District. He believes Ms. Kaptur will be held accountable for her vote denying the DREAM Act and her reasoning behind comprehensive immigration reform.
“For many undocumented youth of mixed-status families, Kaptur’s explanation that it wasn’t comprehensive enough, and that it doesn’t encompass all those who are impacted, is a poor excuse,” Méndez wrote. “These excuses have been used before, that a bill isn’t “perfect” enough, and are often little more than an effort to deflect blame as someone whose attempts to help have been drowned out by an ineffective government process, when they themselves helped to control it. In the past, Kaptur didn’t need the support of Latino communities who are intimately connected to the immigration debate, and now that she does, she’s trying to backpedal and rationalize a bad voting record which speaks for itself.”
There also is an attempt to organize Latinos in Ohio affected by the DREAM Act and other issues through a recently-established website www.undocumentedohio.com. The website urges readers to put pressure on Congress and to aid in fighting the deportation efforts of various “dreamers” (kids who came to the U.S. at a young age).
One such blog posting relays one man’s efforts to help his peers:
“My name is Marco and I am undocumented, have been for 18 years. I came to the US when I was three to reconnect with my parents after a year of separation. I am now 21 and have recently graduated from Kenyon College this past May with BA in Sociology, cum laude, while serving as a peer-minister for three years,” he wrote. “I am now an immigrant organizer for Undocumented Ohio working to empower the immigrant community in Ohio. Knowing and believing in the same faith of past freedom fighters, the hope of the present, and the immeasurable possibilities of a more loving future is why I’ve responded this call to action.”
But the effort Torres is advocating is a more organized campaign to engage Latinos across the state, not just splintered voices who share a common bond.
Editor’s Note: The March 6, 2012 Democratic primary vote for Kaptur vs. Kucinich is as follows: As expected, each candidate carried their respective bases—Marcy received 94.22 percent of the vote in Lucas County (to Kucinich’s 3.68 percent) while Dennis carried Cuyahoga County (73 percent to Marcy’s 24 percent). Ms. Kaptur also carried those portions of Erie County (73.28 percent to 18.43 percent) and Ottawa County (81.63 percent to 7.85 percent) that were part of the NorthCoast district. However, the division in the city of Lorain was much closer—Kaptur received 49.57 percent of the vote to Kucinich’s 45.56 percent. The reason for the tightness in Lorain?—the city of Lorain is over 25 percent Latino and many of the Latinos voting did not care for Ms. Kaptur’s rejection of the DREAM Act in December of 2010.
In all, Kaptur received 56.44 percent of the vote to Kucinich’s 40 percent. The remaining Democratic candidate—Graham Veysey—received 3.56 percent of the total vote.