Yes, elections do have consequences – and for Hispanics, those consequences are negative. The House going Republican is devastating for Latino and Latina constituents.
The recent announcement of committee chairs for the 112th Congress clearly indicates that the new Republican House leadership is detrimental to the Hispanic community’s well-being. Heaven help our people as the miniscule advances we made are wiped away by Republicans while Democrats continue in their failure to make any Latina and Latino legislative initiative a priority.
House Republican leaders recently approved their slate of committee chairpersons once their party assumes control of the lower chamber in January. The appointments of Peter T. King to the homeland security committee, Lamar Smith to the judiciary committee, and Steve King to the subcommittee on immigration, citizenship, refugees, border security and international law is especially troubling for Hispanics.
Even before being appointed as chair to homeland security, Peter King was seen as having a major influence in shaping U.S. Hispanic immigration policy if the Republicans were to win the House. He is best known for his anti-Hispanic rhetoric and as a gadfly on Lou Dobbs’ former CNN show whenever the program focused on Hispanic immigration.
He has referred to those of us who are Latinos and Latinas as an invasion requiring a further militarization of the border as the only course of action. He supports English-only legislation, leading the fight to ban the use of Spanish by government agencies, and opposes any form of aid, including humanitarian medical care, for the undocumented. He has even voted for legislation supporting the border vigilante minutemen.
Lamar Smith, who will chair the judiciary committee, is a tireless opponent of immigration reform. He opposed then-president George W. Bush’s 2004 guest-worker proposal as well as any legislation that provides a path toward citizenship.
He authored the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) which, among other things, includes the summary exclusion for persons arriving in the United States without proper documents; the retroactive imposing of 3- and 10-year waiting periods for persons deported from the United States; and the mandated annual increase in border patrol and construction of a “triple-tiered” border fence.
More recently, Smith has co-sponsored a controversial bill (along with Peter King) to eliminate birthright citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants in an effort to combat the myth of “anchor babies.” He has also supported the so-called rights of states, like Arizona, to enforce immigration laws.
We might normally find the concept of anchor babies humorous if it weren’t for the fact that of the more than 100 freshman Republicans elected in November, 39 percent “have already declared their intention to end the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship,” according to the Center for American Progress.
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About a third of the Republican freshmen have committed to reduce legal immigration. We can expect Smith, as chair of the judiciary committee, to hold hearings forcing officials to answer charges that they are “ignoring” immigration laws.
Steve King, a Tea Party conservative, is best remembered for building a model wall while delivering a speech on the floor of the House. The wall was his own design, complete with an electrified wire on top, for after all, “we do this with livestock all the time,” he said.
Like Smith and Peter King, he supports stripping Hispanics born in the United States of their citizenship. He refers to Hispanic immigration as a “slow-rolling, slow-motion terrorist attack on the United States.”
He supports the use of racial profiling (that is, an accent) to check on the documentation of Latino- and Latina-looking people. Like Smith, he has already announced his intent to call officials from the Obama administration to question them on why they are not enforcing immigration laws. Not surprisingly, he joins Peter King in supporting English-only legislation.
Speaker of the House John Boehner could not have picked a trio of more anti-Hispanic representatives than both Kings and Smith. Even when it seems that he threw Latinas and Latinos a bone by appointing Cuban-born Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to head the foreign affairs committee, the reality is that her appointment works against the best interest of Cuban-Americans because of her commitment to continue fighting the Cold War with Cuba.
The vast majority of Cuban-Americans, according to numerous polls, have moved beyond the politics of their grandfathers and grandmothers. But by appointing Ros-Lehtinen as chair, any hope of resuming travel to Cuba and ending a burdensome embargo has come to an end.
As I survey the Hispanic-phobic people appointed to leadership positions in the 112th Congress, I am left wondering if indeed Republicans have any respect whatsoever for Latinas and Latinos, seeing them as valued citizens of the country. Or has the rancor and ethnic discrimination reached such levels that we are rapidly becoming a people that can expect a continuous disenfranchisement from our elected officials?
Elections have consequences, and it is obvious that Hispanics lost – not that we necessarily won in 2008, but that’s another story.
Miguel A. De La Torre is professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.