Dear President-Elect: Prioritize Immigration Reform


How do you say "thank you" in Spanish? Appointing a few brown faces to your cabinet or to the Supreme Court is not the answer. We should not feel gratitude for something that should be the norm. You say thank you by not ignoring the number one reason we went out to the polls and voted.

We did make good on our promise. Remember our chants during the massive 2005 marches held throughout the country demanding a comprehensive immigration reform that never came? As we marched through the streets in all the major U.S. cities, we shouted, "Today we march, tomorrow we vote."

Well, tomorrow came on Nov. 4. Hispanics, in record numbers, voted for you at a two-to-one margin over Sen. McCain. And while it may be true that since 1972 Democratic candidates have on average garnered about two-thirds of the Hispanic vote in each presidential election, what makes this election unique is the unprecedented number of Hispanics who went to the polls.

Because of the growth of the Hispanic population and where that growth occurred, Latina/os had a major influence in choosing you as our next president. These demographic changes have altered the electoral map in your favor. The sleeping giant has awakened. The question for you to ponder is: Will the electoral changes last until 2012?

The growth of the Hispanic community makes us a swing vote that can no longer be ignored. According to the Census Bureau, Hispanics are responsible for about half of America's population growth between 2000 and 2006. It is estimated that by 2035 one out of every four Americans will be a Latino or Latina. Places like Iowa, Kansas and North Carolina are witnessing phenomenal growth within their Hispanic population. What the McCain camp failed to realize is that the browning of America has made José the plumber a better signifier of who we are as a nation than Joe the plumber.

How has this demographic shift impacted your elections, and future elections to come? Let's look at five states that were crucial to your win. These five states also witnessed an increase in Latino/as residents: Florida, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. All five states were won by George W. Bush in 2004. All five states, with the exception of Arizona, were won by you in 2008. And I bet that if McCain were not Arizona's favorite son, you might have also picked up that state.

Even the southern state of Virginia went for you in large part because of the increase of voting Hispanics in the suburbs of Washington D.C. To better appreciate Hispanic political influence, let's consider my former home state of Florida. According to the exit polls conducted in 2004, Bush won Florida Hispanics by 12 percentage points (Bush, 56, and Kerry, 44) in 2004. A few weeks ago your opponent lost Florida Hispanics by 15 percentage points (Obama, 57, and McCain, 42).

In other words, the Latina/o vote swung by 27 percentage points between elections! The state that made Bush our president switched to you because a larger portion of the Latina/o population went out and voted for you. If you and your party can maintain these numbers, it will become mathematically impossible for Republicans to win the White House.

So, how do you say "thank you" in Spanish? The word for "thank you" is "comprehensive immigration reform." I know this is a phrase you have ignored during the campaign and a phrase you have ignored during the 2005 congressional attempt to bring about reform. You only brought it up as the centerpiece of your Spanish advertising.

What is disappointing is that you refused to translate your so-called "pro-immigration" advertising into English and run it in major Euroamerican markets. This fact alone illustrates a certain disingenuous approach to our concerns. To make matters worse, rather than stating how your administration would deal with immigration, you just told us in Spanish why McCain was anti-immigration and anti-Hispanic. We were not swayed by such pandering. What is important for us is to see you unveil a thoughtful comprehensive reform initiative: a reform that does not break up our families, a reform that does not cause death among our people throughout the borderlands, a reform that protects human dignity from police and border-patrol brutalities.

We voted for you, according to numerous exit polls tracking Hispanics' motivations, because we knew that even though McCain co-sponsored (along with Edward Kennedy) a comprehensive immigration bill, when he spoke to white audiences during his drive toward the White House, he repudiated his vote and insisted that he would now vote against his own bill. He abandoned us, so we abandoned him—a fate you too might face if you ignore our concerns.

Even though you have said nothing constructive about immigration, except maybe a throw-away line in the litany of major problems facing the nation during your party acceptance speech, we took a chance that you might truly bring change. We are taking a gamble on you even though you attempted to downplay the role some Democrats, including yourself, had in helping Republicans kill the comprehensive immigration reform bill in order to please organized labor lobbying groups.

So, how do you say "thank you" in Spanish? Appointing a few brown faces to your cabinet or to the Supreme Court is not the answer. We should not feel gratitude for something that should be the norm. You say thank you by not ignoring the number one reason we went out to the polls and voted. You say thank you by listening to how the present immigration laws are oppressive to our people.

And who knows: After you say thank you, we might respond with a "you're welcome" in 2012.

Miguel A. De La Torre is director of the Justice & Peace Institute and associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.

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Tags: Immigration, Miguel A. De La Torre, Politics


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