"He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water." Isaiah 49:10

Monday, February 22, 2010

Immigration Reform Losing Steam?

By Fidel "Butch" Montoya

While it appears the immigration reform movement has stalled in Washington, there are some who claim that the immigration reform movement is actually getting stronger, while others will argue that the movement is not as organized and united as some allege. The fact is that the reform movement across the country is losing steam and taking second place to the unemployment crisis in the Latino community.

When people cannot put beard and butter on the table for their own families, the urgent need for one's own survival becomes the priority. It is unfortunate, but the veracity of the Great Recession is a fact for many Latino families. Immigration reform while an crucial issue for the Latino community, it is taking a back seat when the issues become foreclosure, need for food and ability to pay one's bills such as light, water, and heat.

“An estimated 1.3 million Latino families will lose their homes to foreclosure between 2009 and 2012,” said Janet MurguĂ­a, President and CEO of the NCLR. In a NCLR report, it outlines how foreclosures are affecting the stability of Latino homeowners, and the long term effects of losing one’s home in the Latino community. “This represents a shocking loss of wealth and a major blow to community stability. This study brings to light the human and social costs of foreclosure and the urgent need for stronger government intervention to help homeowners, including those who are unemployed.” NCLR reports that 8 million homeowners are behind in their mortgage payments and about 400,000 Latino families were expected to lose their homes to foreclosure as of 2009.

The extremely cold and wet winter so far this year is also taking its toll on many Latino families. Winter has been particularly hard on those workers who are dependent on jobs that have been adversely affected by the wintery storms that have hit across the USA. Those who depend on hourly pay have been the hardest hit by the long winter.

Just two weeks ago, Keith Hall, commissioner of the US Labor of Bureau Statistics reported to the Congress that although the unemployment rate in January was 9.7 percent, that statistic in fact is masking the high unemployment in other areas. Since the start of the Great Recession in December of 2007, over 8 million jobs have been lost. Financial pundits are now saying it is going to take five or more years to create new jobs to replace those lost.

While many financial analysts tried to paint a positive picture, claiming that the unemployment rate was dropping....10 percent to 9.7 percent, it is hard to find any positive news in the US Labor of Bureau Statistics report when in fact the Latino community continues to face high unemployment rates. The report stated in very clear terms that the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for Latino households compared to non-Latino Whites continued to push double digits. For Latino households, unemployment was estimated at 12.6 percent compared to 8.7 percent for non-Latino Whites.

In one startling statistic, the high unemployment rate in the Latino community shows the severity of the effects of the Great Recession. The report stated that 2,849,000 Latinos remained unemployed in January 2010 and that these people "represented 30.6 percent of the total unemployed in the US." If that one statistic does not demonstrate why immigration reform is rapidly losing its place as the priority issue facing the Latino community, some people are obviously being blinded by the facts. The growing problem of unemployment is taking a hard toll for Latino workers and their families.

In fact from January 2009 to this past January 2010, the unemployment rate for Latinos went from 9.9 percent to 12.6 percent. The unemployment breakout is equally disappointing and frightening for our community. "Among Latino adults (ages 20 and over), the unemployment rate for Latino women in January was 11.5 percent. For Latino men, the unemployment rate was 13.8 percent." For teenage Latinos, (ages 16 to 19), 37.8 percent were unemployed!

The unemployment statistic for the Black community is even worse, with 16.5 percent remaining unemployed. In fact for both Latino and Black communities, the unemployment rate no doubt will continue to go up.

The lack of job creation is one factor that is threatening any hopes for recovery in the economy. We are facing a bleak future unless the Congress can come up with a bill that will stimulate job growth. Even now, we are finding that the partisan atmosphere in Washington is killing any agreement that the Congress can stop fighting amongst themselves to work for the common good.

While one can claim that the comprehensive immigration reform movement is stronger and more organized, it is facing a much stronger opponent than the rightwing conservatives or Tea Party movement. The need to survive and keep one's family in a home that is threatened by unemployment and foreclosure is a tough foe.

With the high unemployment rate in Latino households, homes are being lost to foreclosure every day. Only this week, after months of claiming he was doing something to help families keep their homes, President Obama has come up with a billion dollar proposal to help families in mortgage trouble. For some, this effort may come too late.

There is no doubt more people are aware of the need for comprehensive immigration reform, and want to see the Congress do something to fix a very corrupt and broken system, there are still many who will not support the Gutierrez Bill, CIR-ASAP because they claim it is enforcement heavy.

In fact the Gutierrez Bill has not received the broad support from Latino activists it needs if it is going to pass in the House. Activists claim there are still many questions that need to be addressed, and many immigration reform supporters assert that Gutierrez is jamming his bill down our collective throats.

In the United States Senate, New York Senator Schumer still has not even allowed anyone to go through his proposed comprehensive immigration reform bill. No one really knows or fathoms what his immigration proposal will look like. While he claims to have received the support of Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to co-sponsor this legislation, much like the Gutierrez bill, there is no guarantee that the Latino community will support this proposed legislation.

Unfortunately the present economic situation is not going to help comprehensive immigration reform. Even with the financial study that came out a few weeks ago that claimed immigration reform would add billions of dollars to a damaged economy, too many people seem more concerned with the short term damage the economy is doing to our community than any long term solution.

When food, shelter, and financial security are threatened by unemployment, it leaves little strength to fight for immigration reform. With more Latino families living in the shadow of financial ruin and destruction, worrying about immigration reform seems farfetched. With mid-term elections coming up, issues like unemployment, foreclosure concerns, and worries about present employment are taking center stage.

Perhaps in better times, immigration reform would have been the priority issue for the Latino community, but in today's bleak economic picture, survival of one's own family is the main concern. It has nothing to do with being insensitive to the needs of so many people in our country that deserve to be treated better, and given the opportunity to legalize their status, it is a matter of just trying to survive the Great Recession.

There is no question that this country needs to fix its broken immigration system, unfortunately, when so many Latinos are worried about their own economic blight, I am afraid immigration reform will not rise to the pole position of issues facing the voters in the mid-term elections of 2010.

Timing is everything, and unfortunately for comprehensive immigration reform, with the lack of support from the President, with the House Speaker speaking out of the two sides of her mouth, with the Senate Majority Leader uncertain about his future in the Senate, and no agreeable immigration legislation introduced in the Congress, it is not going to happen this year.

As long as the threat of losing one’s job, or the prospect that one will not find a job in today’s economy, most people are focused on surviving the Great Recession. Even if most immigration reform proponents are working to force the President and the Congress to deal with comprehensive immigration reform, as long as the jobless rate continues to climb in the Latino community, reform will not happen this year.

Even though candidate Obama claimed to have comprehensive immigration reform as a priority in his first year, the reality of a poor economy has forced the President to change his priorities for the country. Unfortunately, job creation and efforts to continue to jump start our economy will take precedence, and immigration reform will lose the battle.


Fidel "Butch" Montoya is Director of H.S. Power and Light Ministries. He was the Vice President/News Director of KUSA Channel 9 News from 1985-1990, and worked at the news station for 24 years. Montoya also served as Deputy Mayor of City and County of Denver from 1995-1999; as the Manager of Public Safety for the City and County of Denver from 1994-2000. Montoya was Licensed to preach in 1972.

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