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November Elections: Latinos and Immigration

Elecciones de noviembre: los latinos y la inmigración,

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Every two years, on the second Tuesday in November, the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives are elected or re-elected, which is the body that provides (and not the other way around) the resources for the functioning of the federal government and can constitutionally impeach the president. Also, in his role as Speaker, the leader of the winning party is second only to the President and Vice President in terms of formal power.

In addition, one third of the Senate, many governors, mayors and an infinite number of minor positions in local and state governments, as well as judges, commissioners, sheriffs, and a long etcetera will be renewed, although the focus will be on which party will have control of the House and the Senate, currently in the hands of the Democrats, as well as the White House.

Until a few months ago, all polls agreed that the economy would give the Republicans the victory, but the Democrats have managed to rebound, mainly based on the mobilization of their voters around the abortion issue, and a favorable result for the Republicans will depend on whether they manage to impose the idea that a true plebiscite is being voted on Biden’s administration, as the last election in 2020 was about Trump, as well as on the turnout of many supporters, given that the vote is voluntary.

This election could have an additional significance, that of marking a relevant change in the perception of the political importance of Latinos, already recognized as the first demographic minority in the country by displacing African-Americans from that position.

Despite their numbers, Latinos have not yet made it to the top division of the country, and if the forecasts come true, their votes could be decisive in producing a shift towards the Republicans or to support the Democrats, and if it is the former, it would represent, above all, an epochal change, a before and after, for the public perception, of the country’s elite, and of the media about their electoral importance in deciding winners or losers.

The above in a double sense, on the one hand, if they help the Republicans it would be a continuation of a novelty that began with Trump, and on the other, they would mark a change of trend in the so-called swing states, that is, those few that, by changing their preference in each election, thus decide the outcome. As an example for this November, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, Florida, just to mention a few.

It would not only be a great political leap, but also of their relevance for the rest of the country, since they still do not reach the place that should correspond to them as the first minority. Accustomed to the issue of “race” only as skin color, and in the mirror of African-Americans, the rest of the country finds it hard to understand Latino diversity, where even those Latinos with black skin are defined more by their cultural belonging and language than by their color. Therefore, it is difficult for them to understand their political behavior, not only for President Biden, but especially for Republicans, who have only recently begun to realize that institutions such as the family are very important to many Latinos, as well as certain conservative ideals, such as law and order.

This recognition could also have another consequence, in the sense that Latino representation is still small in the media and in that factory of dreams that is Hollywood, as well as in leadership and business. In other words, it would also mean the ascent to a different level, which could place this culture and the Spanish language in the main showcases, far above its current and comfortable sectorial location, important but limited.

Is the result enough to make this leap? I think not, I think something else is missing, that they are identified with a specific contribution, but not just any contribution, but one that is important for the country, for the elite and the dominant Anglo culture.

That issue is, in my opinion, immigration, the one that deeply divides the USA, and where it has not been possible to find a solution, and with the current polarization everything indicates that not even Republicans and Democrats can dialogue to reform an obsolete legislation, given the current level of mutual disqualifications.

That is the opportunity open to Latinos, if they are willing to take advantage of it. Personally, I see it as equivalent to the role of the African American minority in the Civil Rights and the resulting legislation, starting in the 60’s of the last century, where they appeared as a unifying element, and from then on, a role that no one else has been able to play at their level.

The U.S. has repeatedly failed on the racial issue, but has been very successful in integrating different waves of immigrants. However, unlike countries such as Canada or Australia, today it is unable to agree on a migration system that is effectively a safe, orderly and legal process. The division between Republicans and Democrats has been going on for years, it is deep, with different visions of the past and the future, and today, in addition, the exchange of insults predominates.

This fact has prevented minimal continuity in immigration policies, as in almost every other area, which is why we are witnessing such abrupt changes from Trump to Biden, making the current situation at the southern border a complex issue, where legislation is outdated and rationality is in short supply.

In practice, the risk taken by irregular migrants is always outweighed by the attraction of U.S. society, where, moreover, the country needs them and provides them with work, even if the legal system closes its doors to them.

To make the situation even more difficult to resolve, the U.S. is not a signatory to some international immigration and children’s treaties, which, if signed, could introduce greater order and clarity around what should be done, and there would likely be liability for the federal government for the current situation where cartels abuse migrants, especially in punishing and redressing crimes such as sexual abuse and human trafficking.

The expulsion of millions of people is impossible and unthinkable, so the vast majority of those who manage to enter find in the end better possibilities than in their countries of origin, including the materialization of their life projects.

What is the opportunity for Latinos?

The opportunity is given by the fact that the political process in the United States has not been able to overcome its conflicts, and a solution could be advanced if the Latino community can introduce greater rationality by incorporating the elements that today seem to be antagonistic, that is, the need to welcome immigrants, but with a scheme that guarantees security, both of the borders and of the migrants themselves.

This would be the opportunity that, if taken advantage of, would allow Latinos to be a reference that fulfills a role that no one else seems to be able to represent today, by including the different elements at stake and, very importantly, without being disqualified as a collective, since not only immigrants would be represented, but also both sides of the internal debate, since Democrats and Republicans do not seem to want to negotiate directly between them the minimum consensuses. A proposal made to the country by Latino organizations and representatives could fill that void.

The presence of Latinos of different sensibilities would also give voice to the majority of immigrants, legal or illegal, who are strong supporters of the very idea that the United States and its institutions stand for. If the Latino community is able to unite and overcome its internal differences behind this issue, it can take another step up the ladder by contributing a project of national interest to the U.S. by proposing an agreement that has been elusive for legal, safe and orderly immigration.

If achieved, there could be a very important addition for Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole, a permanent presence of the region, governments and countries, in the US political process, not with distant issues, but with issues as central to politicians as their reelection or election, an aspect accepted as legitimate in the US system, and taken advantage of by so many countries, for example, Ireland, Greece, Israel and others.

At a time when the U.S. seems to have no interest in the region on issues other than drugs and where the South has distanced itself from Washington, there would be an opportunity to organize on issues that have to do with dictatorships, abuses, corruption or organized crime in favor of common interests of justice, defense of democracy, human rights and the fight against impunity.

This article is part of an agreement between El American and the Interamerican Institute for Democracy.


Ricardo Israel es un reconocido escritor, bogado, analista político y académico chileno. Fue candidato presidencial de su país en 2013. Actualmente hace parte del directorio del Interamerican Institute for Democracy // Ricardo Israel is a renowned Chilean writer, lawyer, political analyst and academic. He was a presidential candidate in his country in 2013. He is currently a member of the board of directors of the Interamerican Institute for Democracy

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