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Commentary: Obama, Immigration and the Hispanic Vote

By Rene Martinez

Dallas, TX –

Our recent Presidential election demonstrated that the emerging Hispanic population has translated into an emerging voting power in the United States, supporting President Barack Obama by over 70% of the Latino vote. Critical battleground states such as Nevada, New Mexico, Florida, and Colorado were direct examples of this political emergence. The Republican Party, in its continued immigrant-bashing, basically ignored and/or took the Hispanic vote for granted. One must remember the Mega Marches of 2006 which resulted in millions of Hispanics demonstrating their dissatisfaction with the failed congressional efforts to bring about reform. These manifestations resulted in extensive voter registration efforts, citizenship initiation projects and then the dramatic voter turnout in November.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform is now the most important issue among Hispanics other than the economy. Immigration reform is in the minds of millions of Hispanics that have been affected by ICE raids, fear of deportation and discriminate arrests, dividing families, loss of jobs and income, a sense of family security, and more importantly, living without fear and in shadow of hate and recrimination. The Hispanic community is expecting President Obama to address this major issue with post haste and political savvy. His Cabinet appointees in Janet Napolitano, Gilda Solis, and Ken Salazar , will be some of the critical players in this process along with additional advisers that are being selected from Stanford and Georgetown Law Schools, providing extensive research and data that will produce a body of evidence that may shape the Comprehensive Reform Package. Once it is developed, the President must muster enough votes from both aisles of the House and Senate to create a bi-partisan base for its passage. It will not be easy and true bi-partisan support will be critical if and when Senators John McCain and John Cornyn demonstrate true leadership and not turn their backs on the Hispanic vote. Organized Labor, chambers of commerce, the Hispanic Congressional Caucus, and all the major Latino organizations will need to forge significant alliances to support a consensus for this reform package. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, who is planning to run for Governor of Texas will be expected to support this effort. Hutchison will not make the same mistakes that the Republican Party has made. She needs the Hispanic vote and she is already on board with the Dream Act. Expect her to do the right thing.

Critical strands in Immigration Reform will be debated and chosen as parts of the final plan: border enforcement, reunification of families, a pathway to citizenship, fees and fines to be paid for those applying for visas, the Dream Act, tighter employer sanctions and possibly a revised guest worker plan. It is not unlikely that more marches and manifestations of support for immigration reform will take place in 2009 by the Hispanic community. ICE raids will diminish, yet immigrant-bashing rhetoric of Lou Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly, and Pat Buchanan will continue. They'll exaggerate the truth with unsubstantiated facts and inflated data about immigration, and use hateful tirades to play on fear, racism, and a false sense of patriotism. Already in Austin, anti-immigrant legislation is being proposed, so the need for Congressional action is urgent in order to override much of this unconstitutional paper rhetoric that will be debated this month in the state Legislature.

This all brings us back to review several factors from the Presidential election: we have a new dynamic and sensitive President-elect; he is developing a "brain storage" with new leaders advising him on critical issues; a new and young Hispanic electorate that is energized and will be keenly observant of future actions by the new Administration and Congress. Comprehensive Immigration Reform will once and for all bring millions of immigrants out of an environment and climate of fear, hostility, and harassment. I expect President elect Obama, who understands immigration reform from a personal level will do the right thing for all Americans and truly define change for this country.

Rene Martinez is Immigration Coordinator for District III of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.