Washington Politics Remains Uncomfortable With Latino Affairs

Like a pimple between the shoulder blades of the American body politic, this election year Latinos rise beyond the reach of both left and right.

On the right, Republican Party wise Latina Bettina Inclan is inclined to roll back statements suggesting Mitt Romney might consider a sensible policy position on immigration reform.

On the left, the Democratic Party has failed Latinos.

"Obama got all those Latinos to vote for him because he promised an amnesty," an undocumented amigo from Guatemala I'll call Carlos recalls, in Spanish. "But he did the opposite. Now I don't think he'll be back next year."

Like 70% of Univision's audience between the ages of 18 and 49 years, Carlos watches no other news network.  On Univision, a nationwide Latino struggle rises to the level of nightly news.

In Latin America, where Univision is king, the politics of promising is serious. In Spanish, promising something makes you "promised" (prometido) to it. Obama promised Univision's Jorge Ramos an acceptable comprehensive immigration reform bill during his first year in the White House. Now Obama seeks reelection empty-handed on Univision.

The White House has a Latino problem. The White House has Latino solutions, too. One is named Jose Rico. He is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, an office created by the George H. W. Bush White House and accelerated to staggering results under Obama, as 3 staffers have created a network of 10,000 collaborators, or "Stakeholders", at summits around the country.

"Our office actually went to over 150 cities in 33 states, including Puerto Rico," says Rico, " to ask three simple questions: What is it we can do at the federal government to help education outcomes for Hispanics? What should we stop doing as a federal government? And what's working?"

"It works," an administration official quoted with anonymity aforethought of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics' summit series, "because action items that do influence politics are best decided over small, round table discussions with top policy makers."

At Saturday's White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics Summit in Arlington, Virginia, Jose Rico was very busy doing great things. I did not ask him about deportations.

Ninety-seven out of 100 deportees under Obama has been Latino.

"That's really high," Gregory Nava, Director of Selena and El Norte, told me at Dolores Huerta's 82nd birthday party in Los Angeles earlier this year. 

"In some areas they are implementing the new policies, in some areas they're not," says community organizing legend Dolores Huerta, winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. "I know the Obama Administration did call the ICE people together to give them new instructions, but we know how that goes. Those policies have to be implemented the way they should be. Also, in terms of people who are quote-unquote 'criminals', that they really be true criminals. There are some cases where, say, people don't show up for a deportation hearing and it's an automatic felony. Maybe that shouldn't be a felony. But ultimately, I think it's on us to do what we need to do to get the people elected who will vote for immigration reform, to vote for legalization, which has been the policy of the United States since day one. Every immigrant community that came here was legalized at one time or another."

On Saturday, I asked Dolores' niece, Julie Rodriguez, Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, about deportations.

"The president's budget, which is actually the 2013 budget, has called for a reduction in the number of bed spaces in immigrant detention centers, has called for funding immigrant integration programs, has called for phasing out the task for agreement from the 287G program." A problem, says Rodriguez, is in the House of Representatives.

The House of Representatives has a Republican majority lead by Speaker John Boehner, who has said of a Dream Act, "There's always hope. I did talk to Sen. Rubio about his idea, and he gave me some particulars about how this would work." But with the White House budget proposal for 2013 seeking to create conditions for a reduction in deportations, the Republican House opposes these austerity measures (pdf).  

However, this is an election year and polls show Latino voters overwhelmingly support DREAM Act and immigration reform.  

Moreover, as Ken Auletta points out in The New Yorker, "The reach of Univision is often underappreciated."

Univision "is watched regularly by two-thirds of all Hispanic television viewers in the U.S. In Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Phoenix, its stations' newscasts rate higher than those of their English-speaking competitors. Some nights, the network's national ratings exceed those of ABC, CBS, Fox, or NBC. And the audience is growing, in part because of demographics. Today, fifteen per cent of Americans are Hispanic; in 2050, the percentage will have doubled.

Will Latinos decide this year's election? Only if Latinos register to vote during this campaign season. Data on Latino voter registration is difficult to determine, a state organizer for Barack Obama's campaign tells me, because voter registration does not call for ethnic identification. However, over 50,000 Latino youth are turning 18 each month. They need to be registered to matter in November. An unregistered Latino voter is an exotic, hot-tempered political eunuch. President Obama's first 3 years in office have seen Latinos under siege in America. Washington politics remains uncomfortable with Latino affairs. So whether you consider yourself a Democrat or a Republican, consider voting for yourself this year, instead.