Hispanic voters can’t be ignored
November 19, 2004
For many years, the Democratic Party took Hispanic American voters for granted. But those days are long gone, as this year’s presidential election proved quite conclusively when President Bush received 44 percent of the Hispanic vote on Nov. 2, up from the 35 percent he received four years ago.
In contrast to African Americans, who vote overwhelmingly (about 90 percent) Democratic, Hispanic voters are more inclined to cast their ballots independently. And as they do, they pay less and less attention to alleged leaders like Reno’s Emma Sepulveda, who’s never met a Democrat she couldn’t vote for and who urged a massive Hispanic vote for her presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry. But that didn’t happen.
After campaigning successfully to force Washoe County to print Spanish-language ballots, Sepulveda complained about the official translations. “These (ballot questions) are very difficult for English speakers,” she whined to the Reno News & Review. “How are Spanish speakers supposed to understand this kind of translation?” I have a simple, if politically incorrect, answer to her question: Learn English! Last time I checked this was an English-speaking country. Or am I wrong?
University of Nevada political science Professor Erik Herzik seems to understand Hispanic voters better than his UNR colleague, Sepulveda. “Hispanics don’t necessarily vote as a bloc,” he told the Gannett News Service last month. “While many support Democratic economic ideals, many others also support Republican stands on cultural issues such as gay marriage or even the war in Iraq.”
Many of the “red” state voters who thought moral issues really mattered in this year’s election came from Hispanic families, which place a premium on hard work and family values, and oppose liberal abortion policies and the concept of gay marriage.
Luis Valera of Las Vegas, chairman of Nevada’s “Viva Bush” Coalition, echoed Herzik. “The Hispanic community is evolving. It’s not just ‘You’re Hispanic so you vote Democrat,'” he said. Are you listening, Ms. Sepulveda? One problem for Hispanics who seek additional political clout is that although they now represent between 15 and 20 percent of Nevada’s total population, they still account for less than 10 percent of the vote despite vigorous “get out the vote” drives in Reno and Las Vegas.
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Some political observers believe that President Bush, emboldened by a show of strength among Hispanic voters, will push for a misguided immigration proposal during his second term. That proposal would legalize a goodly portion of the more than 8 million illegal immigrants already in this country, and invite millions more to come to the U.S. for “temporary” employment.
In other words, it’s a thinly disguised amnesty program – a bad idea when we’re trying to enforce immigration laws in order to gain control over our borders as part of the War on Terrorism.
Shortly after President Bush’s decisive victory, some Republicans interpreted his reelection as a mandate to implement the president’s flawed amnesty proposal. “We think that the environment has improved significantly for this kind of (immigration) reform,” said outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell after a meeting with Mexican officials. And Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, a Texas Republican, cited a “sense of urgency” on the immigration issue and predicted that “the president’s resounding victory … will give him the chance to do what he intended to do.” I doubt it, however, because many Hispanic Americans don’t share the administration’s apparent enthusiasm for illegal immigrants, and the U.S. Senate has taken a sharp turn to the right.
As the Reuters news agency recently noted, “There is a strong element in the Republican Party that opposes any concessions to illegal immigrants and would like to see restrictions placed on legal immigration as well.”
With several more right-wing Republicans elected to the Senate as part of a 55-45 GOP majority, the president’s proposal faces rough sledding on Capitol Hill. “The White House seems to have taken the wrong lesson from the election,” said Mark Krikorian, director of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies. “They seem to believe they have a mandate for Bush’s amnesty and guest worker program, but I can’t see how it’s going to go anywhere in Congress.” Me neither, because the last thing we should be doing during a War on Terrorism is rewarding illegal immigrants.
President Bush claims that his proposal will strengthen border control, but I don’t believe him. After all, his plan would be enforced by the Homeland Security Department’s new Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is the successor to the old, dysfunctional Immigration and Naturalization Service. According to the Washington Post, the Bureau “has slipped into a state of financial turmoil that could endanger its ability to investigate (potential) terrorists … (and) threaten its national security work.” The ICE’s $500 million budget deficit has forced the agency to release 25,000 illegal immigrants over the past year because it lacked space to incarcerate them.
The American people are fed up with illegal immigration. That’s why Arizona voters defied state officials to approve by a 12-point margin a measure that requires people to produce proof of legal immigration status when requesting government services and punishes bureaucrats for failing to request valid ID.
The message is clear: We want the federal government to crack down on illegal immigration, and the sooner the better. Happy Thanksgiving!
Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.