Can the President count on the kind of support he got in 2012 from Latinos?
by Bruce A. Dixon
Black Agenda Report (May 11, 2011)
Can Barack Obama be re-elected without the overwhelming majorities he received in Latino communities across the country? The short answer is probably not. Detentions, deportations, raids, profiling and mass roundups of immigrants are at an all time high. The border wall that Obama originally campaigned against has been built with his endorsement, and generous federal contracts to jail detained immigrants have rescued the private prison industry. What happened, Latino activists are asking, to the president's commitments to fairness, human rights and a path to citizenship? And what will happen to the Latino vote in 2012?
In 2008, President Obama got a full two-thirds of the Latino vote, a greater slice than of any ethnic group apart from African Americans. The brown vote for Obama was decisive in Florida, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado and topped 70% in California, Illinois and New Jersey. Can the president count on that kind of overwhelming support in 2012? With deportations and family separations at an all-time high, and no end in sight, some Latino activists think not.
"We can't hide from it, even if we wanted to," Roberto Lovato, writer and co-founder of Presente.Org, the nation's premiere on-line Latino advocacy group told Black Agenda Report. "Just about every Latino family contains undocumented people, along with citizens and adults registered to vote. They know. They can see that deportations are at an all-time high. The number of these brutal family separations where children and old people are left behind has never been greater. They see this in their own families and the families of friends and neighbors. The level of actual fear people live in, in their homes, on the street or at the job has never been more intense than it is right now."
In the generation since the Freedom Movement ended, black politicians and the black church have appropriated its mantle and symbols to market black candidates in black constituencies for every office from city council to president as the heirs and fulfillers of Dr. King's Dream. Hence candidate Obama didn't even have to make black America any promises. Black voters bit the marketing, made up the promises in their own heads, and flocked to the polls in record numbers. But along with the slick marketing and the slippery language of "comprehensive immigration reform" Barack Obama did make a handful of specific commitments to Latinos. He promised a road to citizenship for the millions of undocumented, along with a more just and fair immigration regime. He hasn't delivered.
"The fact is that on immigration issues," Lovato continued, "Barack Obama has been the worst US president of modern times. Supporting him again, for many Latinos is a proposition that flies in the face of our own dignity and self-respect."
Without overwhelming majorities in brown constituencies, re-electing Barack Obama will be difficult indeed. White support for the president is dropping, and even African American support is softening. Latino support for the president, according to an authoritative February 2011 survey by Latino Decisions and impreMedia, is around 70%. But that number, they caution, ". . . does not translate into automatic votes for 2012 . . ." The second part of that poll reveals that while Republicans are gaining no ground in Latino communities, only 43% of Latino voters are certain they will support Barack Obama next year.
The White House knows it's in deep trouble.
"My sources in DC tell me that when the Congressional Hispanic Caucus called for the President Obama to use his executive authority to suspend or alter the so-called "Secure Communities" program under which hundreds of workplace raids and countless incidents of profiling, indiscriminate roundups, detentions and deportations have occurred, the White House responded by working the phones, calling up key House Democrats and cautioning them to keep their distance from the caucus on this.
"The president is running around the country, showing up at town hall meetings claiming that federal policies are only deporting criminals, but everybody knows it's not true. At one meeting a young woman, a college student stood up and pulled out her own deportation order to show the president. The president is convening panels of Latino celebrities, asking them to spread the word about the good work he's doing for our people. But it's not working, not as well as he needs it to. There is a solid and growing base of people and organizations in our communities who just aren't buying it.
"There are moves to silence critics of the administration on this, to deny them access to publication and broadcast, to cut funding and such. But I think those efforts will fail. The number of imprisoned, brutally separated and terrorized families and communities is just so great that Latinos even in unions, in community groups and such that normally constitute the informal infrastructure of the Democratic Party can't ignore them.
"At some point the White House will either have to try to divide us, or step to the table and negotiate. When that happens, the two minimum demands, neither of which Obama needs Republican support to meet, will be to stop the deportations of DREAM Act students, and to cut off funding for the "Secure Communities Act. Maybe we'll even get to remove the many punitive elements of so-called "comprehensive immigration reform" as well. We just have to stand against this White House, and Latinos are showing some backbone, I'm an optimist, I think we can."
We think Lovato has a point. President Obama, in his El Paso speech earlier this week dishonestly laid the blame for the wave of deportations and terror exclusively on Republicans. He talked about undocumented workers "jumping to the front of the line." The president might have taken a moment to explain to the "what do you not understand about illegal" chorus of white America that the federal government, in the 19th and early 20th centuries removed all barriers to and actively solicited European immigration, with the oft-stated goal of making this a white republic. The famed American "melting pot" was intended, in those days, to exclude everybody who wasn't white. So much for the "our ancestors came here legally" nonsense. Time to get over all that. But in the color-blind America of the 21st century, this remains forgotten and forbidden history.
Lovato adds that many Latinos have carefully studied the struggle of African Americans, both before and since the Freedom Movement of a generation ago. Let's hope they don't make some of the mistakes black America is making today, like unconditionally supporting an administration that does virtually nothing for them. They have little to lose. When that happens, black people will have a lesson to learn from Latinos.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and based in Marietta GA, where he is also a state committee member of the GA Green Party. He can be reached at bruce.dixon@blackagendareport.