Tuesday night's Republican Presidential Debate in Las Vegas will unfold in a swing state that has given its Electoral Votes to every winning President except Jimmy Carter since 1908. Comprising nearly 20 percent of Nevada's electorate and more than 27 percent of its population, Latinos are a crucial part of the fabric of this critical swing state. George W. Bush won Nevada in 2004 with a historic 40 percent of Latino voters, while Barack Obama won Nevada in 2008 with 75 percent of Latinos. Nevada voters count, and Latino voters in Nevada especially count.
Yet the presidential debates have had an Alice in Wonderland quality to them when talking about Latinos. Inside the debate halls, candidates voice strong and angry opposition to Mexican immigration when, for the first time since the 1940s, more Mexicans are leaving the United States than arriving. Outside of the debate halls, Donald Trump famously called Mexican immigrants "rapists" who are "bringing crime," despite the fact that immigrants are far less prone to crime than native-born Americans. Other candidates have followed in his wake by endorsing mass deportations; breaking up families; and changing our long-held Constitutional principles of citizenship, specifically the Fourteenth Amendment's inclusion of all persons born in the United States as U.S. citizens.
Our purpose is not to point fingers at the candidates. Our purpose is to address the most important unreality of all - debate moderators who accept and validate the candidates' mischaracterizations of Latinos. Moderators who steer debate only to illegal immigration and crime validate some candidates' view that Latinos are a problem to be managed. In doing so, they ignore and obscure Latinos' contributions to the social fabric and economic vitality of this country.
It is time for presidential debate moderators to get real about Latinos.
In the real world, Latinos are not the other. Sixty-five percent of us were born in the United States. We are your friends and neighbors. We worship at the same churches, we teach and study in the same classrooms and we fight and die for this country in the U.S. armed forces. Like everyone else, we are striving to get ahead in a challenging and uncertain economy.
In the world we really live in, Latinos are job creators. According to a Stanford University study, the number of Latino-owned business grew 47 percent from 2007 to 2012, while the number of non-Latino businesses actually shrank. Latinos are the only reason that America created net new businesses over those six years, and new businesses mean new jobs.
In the real world, Latinos constitute a consumer market of $1.5 trillion, putting us between Australia and Canada in terms of buying power. Executives of some of the largest consumer goods companies in America tell us that Latinos are the single largest driver of annual sales growth, and sales growth means new jobs.
Just like those who immigrated to America in previous centuries, Latinos today are standing on the shoulders and the hard work of their immigrant ancestors to support their children and build a better country.
Please make no mistake - the debates' bizarre approach to the discussion about Latinos is not limited to the Republicans. At the Democrat Debate in Las Vegas, CNN notoriously left Juan Carlos Lopez to ask predictable questions about immigration late in the evening, as if the one-third of Latinos who are immigrants define the other two-thirds who were born in the United States.
We urge Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday, along with David Muir and Martha Raddatz at Saturday's Democrat Debate, to refresh their thinking about Latinos. Instead of prompting exchanges about an immigration flow that has already reversed itself, ask candidates why some of them are separating Latinos from the rest. Ask them why they are going after a community of Americans who are creating new businesses and jobs, and serving our nation in the U.S. Armed Forces. Ask them why they are going after a community of Americans who enroll in college at higher rates than the nation as a whole. Is this behavior they want to discourage when America continues to struggle with finding drivers of GDP growth and productivity for our nation's economy?
Wolf, David and Martha, please pull us out of this rabbit hole and bring us back to reality. Take the opportunity you have to focus the candidates on those of us who live in the real world. Ask them why some point at hard work, entrepreneurial success, family stability and service and tar it with the brush of crime and "the other."
We are not the other. We are Americans. We want to live like all Americans, to work and study hard every day to make the greatest country on Earth even greater.
Latinos in Nevada and across the country will be watching.
Henry Cisneros, former Mayor of San Antonio, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Founder and Chairman of CityView, and Sol Trujillo, former Chairman and CEO of USWEST, CEO of Orange and CEO of Telstra, are the Democratic and Republican Chairmen and Co-Founders of the Latino Donor Collaborative, a non-partisan, non-profit focused on strengthening the Latino brand and raising awareness of Latinos' contributions to the current and future success of the nation's economy and social sphere.
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