Sunday, January 13, 2013

US Immigration Laws and the Latino Vote – Persistence Pays

Persistence always takes courage and it always eventually pays off. In the US, Latinos have always been challenged by the immigration laws and US fear and scorn of them as a race. But none of that has stopped them coming in and working whenever and wherever they could. In states like Texas they’ve done – and still do - the work some Texans feel is beneath them and often gotten paid lousy wages and been treated like dogs.

Gradually, despite racial resistance, they began to make a significant contribution to the economy as a group and as numbers grew so did resistance, partly because Latino gangsterism also mushroomed. The combination of poverty – because so many Latinos couldn’t get work or were paid such terrible wages – and the ease with which guns are available in the US, had a lot to do with the violence, although it’s rarely acknowledged.

Ppunitive laws passed in the last few years haven’t discriminated between gangsters and hard-working Latinos – which speaks loudly of racism and fear. Because of the way they’ve been exploited and treated as if they were almost not human, Latinos been utterly disempowered politically. Still, numbers have continued to grow, and so has their awareness of their basic rights, and of their power as a group. Some have even boldly spoken out about their illegal status.

But not all Latinos remained illegal. And those who managed to get legal status fought for the rest. Finally their numbers and the momentum of their persistence have reached a threshold where politicians have to pay attention to them.

In the last election, Republicans had a chance to get the Latino vote because Obama hadn’t come through with the immigration promises he made – partly because of Republican resistance. But they couldn’t get over their racism and shot themselves in the foot repeatedly. So they lost the Latino vote. 

That old boys’ club mentality- not just about immigration but about war, taxes, gun control, government spending - lost them the election, and immediately post election they seemed aware that unless they changed they’d never be elected again because their support base is dying off and not being replaced.  

Still, Republican old boys clung to their position. Firstly they did it on taxes, and they lost. Now they’re doing it with gun control, government spending, and war – resisting Chuck Hagel primarily because he doesn’t believe in war for its own sake, which includes Israel declaring war on Iran. Their back is to the wall on all issues, but they simply can’t let themselves see it yet. This is not a subtle group. 

With immigration, they see it, miracle of miracles. At least in the Senate. President Obama, who can’t be accused of doing it for political reasons, has been working on an overhaul of immigration laws that will give legal status to most of the 11 million currently illegal Latinos. He’s not proposing amnesty; certain conditions have to be met, including paying back taxes, but it does acknowledge the role Latinos in the economy and reward them fairly for it, whether they are highly skilled workers or low-wage earners. It acknowledges their basic human rights.

Whitehouse officials say Mr. Obama has made immigration a top priority this year ( He wants to push it through Congress on one bill – in my opinion, maybe because he’s got so much to do and it’s a way of avoiding another long-drawn-out, hair-splitting, knock-down drag out fight. Maybe because he’s tired of giving the old boys more room to manoevre than they deserve – again, my personal opinion. 

He aims to present his plan in a couple of weeks ( There is some Republican resistance to a single bill of course but so far the plan has had bipartisan support in the Senate. Early in Obama’s first term he couldn’t get it past Republican resistance. Back then, Republicans were over-sure of themselves – just as they were with the fiscal cliff. Now they need that Latino vote and they know it. In two major areas they have had to admit defeat and it hasn’t been dignified. 

I wonder if they’ll ever learn that lesson. Probably not. It’s frustrating, because they stand in the way of real progress, but they can’t stop the tide of it and that’s what really matters.

What’s that Bob Dylan song? The Times They Are A-Changin’

Come gather 'round people / Wherever you roam / And admit that the waters / Around you have grown / And accept it that soon / You'll be drenched to the bone / If your time to you / Is worth savin' / Then you better start swimmin' / Or you'll sink like a stone / For the times they are a-changin'...

Come senators, congressmen / Please heed the call / Don't stand in the doorway / Don't block up the hall / For he that gets hurt / Will be he who has stalled / There's a battle outside / And it is ragin' / It'll soon shake your windows / And rattle your walls / For the times they are a-changin'.

That was a different era, but the words still apply. They always will.

IMAGE adapted from a poster for a 2012 post-election reception and briefing presented and hosted by La Coalicion