Hispanic / Latino

Senator Bob Menendez on Immigration and the Hispanic Community

We held a forum today on immigration and the Hispanic community here in DC. We will be releasing video and a transcript of it all soon, but I wanted to make available these wonderful set of opening remarks from Senator Bob Menendez:

I don’t want to go on for too long today, because I know the real experts are going to speak in just a minute.

I won’t mention too many statistics either, because I know if a number is relevant, it’s going to be in Simon’s presentation.

If there’s one thought I want to put out to you about the Hispanic vote today, it’s this: Republican’s harsh rhetoric about immigration didn’t just change the political landscape, it changed how we as Hispanic voters see ourselves.

Two words I heard used on the floor of the Senate during the recent debate really shocked me. The words were, “those people.” Everyone sitting here today knows what that’s about. When they said, “those people,” they were talking about more than just undocumented workers. They were talking about the entire Latino community.

For those of us who work hard every day, for those of us who have served our country in countless ways, who have managed to succeed despite the odds, this was an attack on all of us—and in doing so, Republicans showed their true colors.

Last year, when we heard former Senator Conrad Burns joke about the, quote, “nice little Guatemalan man” working on his house; or last week when we heard Mitt Romney talk about people with a, quote, “funny accent,” the message was the same: Republicans were willing to use Hispanics as political scapegoats in order to avoid taking on the real issues of the day. So when the Republicans started talking about “those people,” it speeded our march toward the Democratic camp. We saw this in 2006, we saw it to a certain extent in the local and state elections in 2007 and I know we’re going to see it again in 2008.

But immigration isn’t the only thing that has led Hispanics to the Democratic Party. It’s a general lack of understanding on the part of Republicans as to how the agenda of the Hispanic community fits very much within the American agenda.

We’re all concerned about health care. 47 million Americans have no health insurance. But Republicans don’t seem to understand that Hispanics are the least insured of any group—and Republicans have no solution. Our educational systems are in crisis, but Republicans don’t seem to understand that barely more than half of Hispanics graduate from high school—and they have no solution.

Our nation is facing the prospect of an endless war in Iraq, and Republicans don’t seem to understand that Hispanic men and women in uniform make up a significant percentage of those putting their lives on the line every day. They certainly wouldn’t be saying what they do about Hispanics in general if they did.

The success of Democratic candidates next year is going to be tied to how much they decide to stand up for the agenda to tackle those problems head on, and how well they exhibit their understanding of what Republicans do not.

So here’s the political bottom line: if we as Democrats communicate where we stand on health care, education, economic empowerment, immigration and Iraq, there will be a record Latino vote and a Democratic president.

That’s the political bottom line. There’s a moral bottom line, too. When Mother Theresa was asked what others could do to advance peace in this world, she answered simply, “Go home and love your family.” In the immigration debate, that kind of thinking has been in far too short supply. Human compassion has been in far too short a supply.

And the sooner it becomes plentiful, the sooner a candidate can start reaping a plentiful harvest of votes—no matter what the ethnicity of the voter.

New Tancredo Ad

I'd be interested in your thoughts on the new ad below from the Tancredo campaign.

For more information on NDN's coverage of the 2008 Presidential election, click here.

Why is Tancredo at 1 percent?

There are those who argue that the immigration debate is the most important debate in American politics today. If that is the case, why is Tom Tancredo at 1 percent in the GOP primary fight? So let's say he's crazy and that folks in the GOP know he isn't going to win. But if this issue is that important, and his leadership on it has been so clear, why isn't he getting any more traction? 5 or 10 percent perhaps?

In the new USA/Gallup Poll out today, the new order for the GOP nationally is Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain. These three candidates are the most liberal of the GOP primary candidates on immigration. All have come out in their careers for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, which allows the 11-12 million undocumented to stay in the country. The only two candidates who gained ground in this poll are the ones who have been fighting for a more reasonable immigration approach in the most recent debates, Huckabee and McCain. And in the poll Tancredo stays where he has been for months - at 1 percent.

I am not arguing here that immigration is an easy issue. But I think the overwhelming evidence in the last several elections and in all the polling data indicate that those who believe it has the capacity to be the defining issue in American politics are simply overstating their case. If immigration isn't driving the GOP Presidential primary - which it clearly isn't - I don't know how it is going to drive the Presidential race or Congressional elections next year.

It is my belief that the massive investment the GOP has made in the immigration issue is actually a sign of weakness, a sign of how much the rest of their agenda has collapsed. They have little they can say on their time in power, on what they've done to help the struggling middle class, on the success of their foreign policy, how they've brought health insurance to more people. So what they have settled on is immigration, a 2nd tier but important issue, one where their position may work to fire up some of their base but simply does not work with the broader electorate looking for smart and sensible solutions and has managed to alienate the fastest growing part of the American electorate, Hispanics.

For more on the how the issue of immigration has not performed for the GOP check out my recent essay Immigration, once again, despite huge GOP investment, does not perform for the GOP.

Update: Mr One Percent has a new anti-immigrant ad up, which you can find at www.teamtancredo.com. It closes by saying: "Deport those who don't belong. Make sure they never come back."

The GOP debate over immigration

In his nationally syndicated column today David Broder reminds us that there is, and has been, an intense debate inside the Republican Party over what to do about our broken immigration system. Up until late 2005 the GOP's position, as defined by the President, was to support the national effort to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform, a process that generated one of the most bi-partisan and broad-based coalitions in the Bush era and a good and thoughtful bill. This more open approach to Hispanics and their concerns doubled the GOP's share of the fast-growing Hispanic vote, and was critical to his two very close election wins in 2000 and 2004.

In 2006 the GOP Senate, prodded by Bush, actually passed Comprehensive Immigration Reform with the votes of all 44 Democratic Senators and 18 Republicans. But this more enlightened Republican strategy was rejected by the crumbling Congressional GOP, and a new strategy - call it the Sensenbrenner-Tancredo-Romney strategy - that demonized immigrants challenged the prevailing Bush approach. In 2006 the House GOP refused to even take up the Senate bill and immigration reform stalled. The President was so determined to fight the rise of this new approach that he appointed an Hispanic immigrant to be the RNC Chair in 2007.

When Senate Democrats reintroduced Comprehensive Immigration Reform earlier this year we saw the same tensions play out in the GOP. Despite its failure the final bill had key Senate Republican leaders backing a version of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, calling for keeping all 11 million undocumenteds in the country.

As Michael Gerson, President Bush's former speechwriter wrote recently in the Washington Post, the anti-immigrant sentiment that has prevailed in today's GOP if unchecked will likely cost the GOP the Presidency in 2008. 5 states with heavily Hispanic populations - AZ, CO, FL, NM and NV - won by Bush in 2004 could very easily now flip to the Democrats. Just adding the 4 Southwestern states to John Kerry's total in 2004 would have given him the Presidency.

As Broder details today there two GOP candidates - McCain and Huckabee - who have come out aggressively for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, recognizing as they do both the moral necessity of fixing our immigration system, and the political necessity for their own possible Presidential race next year. Thus as Democrats look to 2008, and the absolute requirement for them to win over the Hispanic vote - one of the most volatile swing voting blocks in American politics today - it would not be wise to assume that over the next 12 months the nativistic Tancredo strategy continues to trump the more enlightened Bush approach to immigration reform inside the GOP.

For more on immigration and the Hispanic vote read our new report, Hispanics Rising.  On Friday EJ Dionne wrote a hard-hitting column echoing these same themes.  

Update: Of course the Huckabee as enlightened on immigration narrative seemed too good to be true.  Matt Ortega found this story showing that Huckabee wants to revisit the idea that citizenship is a birthright.  As the now leading GOP candidate in Iowa says:

” ‘I would support changing that. I think there is reason to revisit that, just because a person, through sheer chance of geography, happened to be physically here at the point of birth, doesn’t necessarily constitute citizenship,’ he said. ‘I think that’s a very reasonable thing to do, to revisit that.’ “

EJ Dionne takes on the new GOP Know-Nothings

EJ Dionne reflects on Wednesday's GOP debate:

Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani did a fine job achieving their objectives in Wednesday's Republican presidential debate: Each thoroughly discredited the other.

They also disgraced themselves as they pandered relentlessly to the growing anti-immigrant feeling in their party.

Mike Huckabee and John McCain were the only candidates willing to suggest what now seems unmentionable: Immigrants, even those here illegally, are human beings and shouldn't be used as political playthings.

At least Tom Tancredo, the Colorado congressman whose railing against immigration has become his mission in life, was consistent with his past. He had every right to say, with glee, that his rivals were "trying to out-Tancredo Tancredo." It was a perfect description of the evening.

The CNN/YouTube debate was a depressing spectacle. There was little inspiration for the future, no sense that Republicans are grappling with why their party has become so unpopular, and few departures from rigid adherence to the party line on taxes, guns, gay rights and a slew of other questions...

....What happened on Wednesday night is actually scary. A legitimate concern over the failures of our national immigration policy is being transformed into an ugly attempt to turn immigrants into scapegoats for all our discontents. The real shame is that both Romney and Giuliani know better.

And today's Washington Post editorial page chimes in with a worthy editorial called: The Newest Nativists: Rudolph Giuliani and Mitt Romney show how fast common sense can be discarded.

UPCOMING EVENT: December 5th - NDN Forum on Hispanics and Immigration

On Wednesday, December 5th, just four days before the GOP Presidential Candidates participate in Univision's Presidential Forum, NDN will hold a forum on the importance of the Hispanic vote as well as the current state of the immigration debate in the United States.

The NDN forum will begin at 10:00 AM on December 5th and will take place at the Phoenix Park Hotel, located at 520 North Capitol Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20001. Visit our website for more details, and to RSVP online.

Participating in the forum will be:

Senator Robert Menendez, U.S. Senator, New Jersey
Janet Murguía, President and CEO, National Council of La Raza (NCLR)
Frank Sharry, Executive Director, National Immigration Forum
Joe Garcia, Director, NDN's Hispanic Strategy Center
Simon Rosenberg, President and Founder, NDN

In advance of the event, we've put together a collection of recent editorials, articles, and reports as background. Also check out the section of our website dedicated to our work on comprehensive immigration reform.

We hope you will join us next week for such an important, timely conversation.

Rudy, the GOP and Immigration

As readers of this blog are aware I believe the Republicans handling of the immigration issue in recent years has been catastrophic for their Party. In 2005 national Republicans, driven by a narrow slice of their electoral base, abandoned Bush's more modern approach to immigration and race and have now made scapegoating immigrants - Hispanics in particularly - a core part of what has been a clearly losing strategy. This is a topic we've covered at length here on the blog, and in the immigration section of our main site.

The struggle inside the GOP between the modern Bush and more nativistic Tancredo approaches to immigration will be on display in Miami a week from Sunday as the Republican Presidential candidates gather for their Univision debate. It promises to be quite a show. Last week NY Times columnist David Brooks explored this tension in a remarkable column about Rudy Giuiliani's evolving views on immigration. An extended excerpt:

“I’m pleased to be with you this evening to talk about the anti-immigrant movement in America,” he said, “and why I believe this movement endangers the single most important reason for American greatness, namely, the renewal, reformation and reawakening that’s provided by the continuous flow of immigrants.”

Giuliani continued: “I believe the anti-immigrant movement in America is one of our most serious public problems.” It can “be seen in legislation passed by Congress and the president.” (Republicans had just passed a welfare reform law that restricted benefits to legal immigrants.) “It can be seen in the negative attitudes being expressed by many of the politicians.”

Giuliani said, somewhat unfairly, that the anti-immigrant movement at that time continued the fear-mongering and discrimination of the nativist movements of the 1920s and the Know-Nothing movement of the 19th century. He celebrated Abraham Lincoln for having the courage to take on the anti-immigrant forces. He detailed the many ways immigration benefits the nation.

Then he turned to the subject of illegal immigration: “The United States has to do a lot better job of patrolling our borders.” But, he continued, “The reality is, people will always get in.”

“In New York City,” he said, “we recognize this reality. New York City’s policy toward undocumented immigrants is called ‘Executive Order 124.’ ” This order protected undocumented immigrants from being reported when they used city services. Giuliani was then fighting the federal government, which wanted to reverse it.

“There are times,” he declared, “when undocumented aliens must have a substantial degree of protection.” They must feel safe sending their children to school. They should feel safe reporting crime to the police. “Similarly, illegal and undocumented immigrants should be able to seek medical help without the threat of being reported. When these people are sick, they are just as sick and just as contagious as citizens.”


Just last year, I saw him passionately deliver remarks at the Manhattan Institute Hamilton Award Dinner in which he condemned the “punitive approach” to immigration, “which is reflected in the House legislation that was passed, which is to make it a crime to be an illegal or undocumented immigrant.”

To “deal with it in a punitive way,” he said then, “is actually going to make us considerably less secure than we already are.” The better approach, he continued, is to embrace the Senate’s comprehensive reform and to separate the criminal illegals from the hard-working ones.

These speeches are the real Rudy. These speeches represent the Rudy who once went overboard and declared, “If you come here and you work hard and you happen to be in an undocumented status, you’re one of the people who we want in this city.”


Of course it hasn’t turned out that way. At the moment, Giuliani and fellow moderate Mitt Romney are attacking each other for being insufficiently Tancredo-esque. They are not renouncing the policies they championed as city and state officials, but the emphasis as they run for federal office is all in the other direction. In effect, they are competing to drive away Hispanic votes and make the party unelectable in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Florida and the nation at large.

In this way, they are participating in the greatest blown opportunity in recent political history. At its current nadir, the G.O.P. had been blessed with five heterodox presidential candidates who had the potential to modernize the party on a variety of fronts. They could be competing to do that, but instead they are competing to appeal to the narrowest slice of the old guard and flatter the most rigid orthodoxies of the Beltway interest groups. Giuliani could have opened the party to the armies of dynamism — the sort of hard-working strivers who live in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx; instead he has shelved one of his core convictions.

More on the DHS citizenship application backlog

The Times editorial page continues their strong advocacy for a more sensible American immigration policy with an editorial today calling on our nation's leaders to fix one piece of the broken immigration system - the astonishing backlog of citizenship applications of legal immigrants. They write:

About the only point of agreement on immigration in this country is that newcomers who play by the rules — fill out their forms, pay their fees and wait their turn — are welcome. But that great American dogma is being sorely tested by the inability of the federal government’s feeble citizenship agency to deal with a flood of applications that arose this summer.

The agency, Citizenship and Immigration Services, is telling legal immigrants that applications for citizenship and for residence visas filed after June 1 will take about 16 to 18 months to process. The agency was utterly unprepared for the surge, and so tens of thousands of Americans-in-waiting will have to keep on waiting. Many, gallingly, may have to sit out next November’s election, even though that civic act was what prompted many of them to apply in the first place...

After the collapse of the Senate immigration bill earlier this year, there has been pressure on Congress to do something about our broken and unacceptable immigration system. A good place to start would be for Congress to add additional one time funds to the Department of Homeland Security to clear this backlog when it returns next week.

It will be interesting to see how the GOP Presidential field handles this question at their Univision Debate on December 9th. For more on this issue check out the Washington Post's detailed account.

Markos weighs in on immigration

Over at Daily Kos Markos weighs in on the immigration reform fight.  He concludes:

The solution is easy enough -- comprehensive immigration reform with stronger workplace and border enforcement, but with a clear path to citizenship for the nation's millions of undocumented, hard-working immigrants. Bush and Rove wanted exactly this, and had they been successful, the Latino vote would've remained a highly contested swing vote. Instead, Republicans are all but begging them to vote Democratic.

The Times comes out swinging, hard, for comprehensive immigration reform

Today's New York Times makes the case for comprehensive immigration reform, powerfully:


This year’s federal failure will not be undone until 2009 at the earliest, while states and local governments will continue doing their own thing, creating a mishmash of immigration policies, most of them harsh and shortsighted. But the wilderness of anger into which Mr. Tancredo helped lead America is not where the country has to be on this vitally important issue, nor where it truly is.

Mrs. Clinton was closer to being right the first time, when she haltingly defended Mr. Spitzer’s reasoning. Fixing immigration is not a yes-or-no question. It’s yes and no. Or if you prefer, no and yes — no to more illegal immigration, to uncontrolled borders and to a flourishing underground economy where employer greed feeds off worker desperation. Yes to extending the blanket of law over the anonymous, undocumented population — through fines and other penalties for breaking the nation’s laws and an orderly path to legal status and citizenship to those who qualify.

These are the ingredients of a realistic approach to a complicated problem. It’s called comprehensive reform, and it rests on the idea that having an undocumented underclass does the country more harm than good. This is not “open-borders amnesty,” a false label stuck on by those who want enforcement and nothing else. It’s tough on the border and on those who sneaked across it. It’s tough but fair to employers who need immigrant workers. It recognizes that American citizens should not have to compete for jobs with a desperate population frightened into accepting rock-bottom wages and working conditions. It makes a serious effort to fix legal immigration by creating an orderly future flow of legal workers.

Americans accept this approach. The National Immigration Forum has compiled nearly two dozen polls from 2007 alone that show Americans consistently favoring a combination of tough enforcement and earned legalization over just enforcement. Elections confirm this. Straight-talking moderates like Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico thrive in the immigration crucible along the southern border. Those who obsess about immigration as single-issue hard-liners, like the Arizonans J. D. Hayworth and Randy Graf, have disappeared, booted by voters. Voters in Virginia this month rejected similar candidates and handed control of the State Senate to Democrats.

It may not be “amnesty” that gets Americans worked up as much as inaction. They seem to sense the weakness and futility in the enforcement-only strategy, the idea of tightening the screws on an informal apartheid system until it is so frightening and hopeless that millions of poor people pack up and leave.

That is the attrition argument, the only answer the anti-amnesty crowd has to comprehensive reform. It is, of course, a passive amnesty that rewards only the most furtive and wily illegal immigrants and the bottom-feeding employers who hire them. It will drive some people out of the country, but will push millions of others — families with members of mixed immigration status, lots of citizen children and practically a nation’s worth of decent, hard workers — further into hiding.

We are already seeing what a full-bore enforcement-only strategy will bring. Bias crimes against Hispanic people are up, hate groups are on the march. Legal immigration remains a mess. Applications for citizenship are up, and the federal citizenship agency, which steeply raised its fees to increase efficiency, is drowning in paperwork and delays. American citizens are being caught up in house-to-house raids by immigration agents.

America is waiting for a leader to risk saying that the best answer is not the simplest one. As John Edwards said at the last debate, “When is our party going to show a little backbone and strength and courage and speak up for those people who have been left behind?”

He was talking about the poor and people without health insurance, but he could — and should — have included a host of others: Business owners who want to hire legal workers. Americans who don’t want their opportunities undermined by the off-the-books economy. Children whosedreams of education and advancement are thwarted by their parents’ hopeless immigration status. And the immigrants, here and abroad, who want to find their place in a society that once welcomed their honest labor, but can’t find a way to do it anymore.

Yesterday the Post first reported on the growing backlog at DHS that may end up denying the vote to hundreds of thousands of legal immigrants. The NIF's two analyses cited in the editorial can be found linked here. And my most recent essay on the politics of immigration, Has the GOP Throws in the Towel on Immigration Reform?, can be found here.

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