By Fidel “Butch” Montoya
For too long we have relied upon the Democratic Party to be our ally in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform and other important issues affecting our community. With the start of the new Obama Administration, the issue of immigration reform has already been pushed to the bottom of the President’s agenda, partly because it seems there is always a ‘more important issue’ facing our country.
The President’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, we must not forget, pushed Democratic House members to vote for HB 4437, which in turn was denounced by millions of Latino protestors from coast to coast in the streets of our cities. Actually, HB 4437 will go down in history as the reason why the Latino community was not afraid to take to the streets to demand the defeat of this hateful legislation.
Emanuel also encouraged House members of Congress to support the SAVE Act, and openly sought Democrats to co-sponsor this legislation. Again, it was legislation that would make life more problematic for undocumented workers and could eventually push thousands of workers out of their jobs by relaying on a computer system called ‘E-verify’ that the government even admits is not very reliable.
We must not be lulled into thinking that Emanuel will change his stripes overnight and in my opinion, will continue to provide anti-immigrant advice to President Obama. As the Chief of Staff, Emanuel will be the President’s most important member of his inner circle in the White House.
This week, national Latino advocates met in Washington, D.C. to devise a strategy of priority issues that affect the Latino community. Fresh from the election, where Latinos voted two to one in favor of Obama over McCain, there is a sense from these leaders that President Obama ‘has to’ listen to our concerns.
I trust they kept in mind that in order to keep comprehensive immigration reform alive, Emanuel must be kept in check. The bottom line, in the inner circle of the President is someone who is not our friend.
In fact, John Trasviña, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, made the comment, “we have friends in high places” in the Obama Administration. Trasvina pointed to Latinos who were appointed to high level Cabinet positions within the government.
Tina Tchen, the White House director of public liaison, delivered a message from the President to the Latino leaders which gathered to map out priorities. “You showed how powerful you are on November 4” and the Presidential appointments are “a measure of my commitment” to ensure that appointments reflect the diversity of our country.
Wanting to cash in for supporting the President, Latino leaders prioritized what they wanted from the President. Not surprising, immigration reform was at the top of the list.
The president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or Lulac, Rosa Rosales said, “It’s also our responsibility, as leaders in our community that they hear from us.” Making the point that the Latino vote cannot be ignored again, Rosales made it clear that the Latino voter made a difference in this year’s election.
Looking back at the election, lost in the news, or better said, ignored by the mainstream news media, McCain spoke forcibly about the need for immigration reform in a speech he gave with business leaders in San Jose back in May, 2008.
McCain openly admitted, “Senator Kennedy and I tried very hard to get immigration reform, a comprehensive plan, through the Congress of the United States,” he said. “It is a federal responsibility and because of our failure as a federal obligation, we’re seeing all these various conflicts and problems throughout our nation as different towns, cities, counties, whatever they are, implement different policies and different programs which makes things even worse and even more confusing.”
Even McCain knows that comprehensive immigration reform should be a priority for the new Obama Administration; it is too bad that Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is not our friend when it comes to immigration.
As Latino leaders put their list of policy issues together for President Obama to consider, and remind the President Latino voters made a difference in the election, the Latino community holds another hot hand in the game of political poker.
We will soon start counting the number of people in our country for the national 2010 census. The Latino community is the fastest growing ethnic group in our country and will certainly affect how congressional districts will be redrawn.
If the Latino vote made a difference in the last election, both political parties need to not only pay more attention to the Latino community, they will need to ensure that their political platforms favor issues and policies that are important to the Latino community.
For starters, to the Republican Party, it means backing off from their anti immigrant policies and hateful rhetoric.
Simon Rosenberg, the president and founder of the progressive think tank, the New Democratic Network, says the Latino vote can no longer be ignored by any party.
Rosenberg also believes the prospect of newly redrawn congressional districts after the 2010 census which will favor Latinos, enemies of comprehensive immigration reform will need to consider the consequences if they continue to oppose passage of immigration reform.
One important predicament Rosenberg points out should make the Republican Party in particular call for a full retreat from their campaign of hate and fear against Latinos.
“I anticipate a dramatic shift in power toward heavily Latino parts of the United States” following the redistricting, Mr. Rosenberg said. “Remember: in redistricting, we count people, not citizens.”
I wonder if Chief of Staff Emanuel will be paying attention to the 2010 census redistricting?
Fidel “Butch” Montoya
H. S. Power & Light Ministries – Latino Faith Initiative
Denver, Colorado 80212