Thursday, May 15, 2008

McCain has his own Hispanic voter problems

San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Ruben Navarerette was too optimistic in a recent column assessing Sen. John McCain's chances with Hispanic voters in the general election.

Some recent missteps and the ongoing persecution of immigrants in Arizona's Maricopa County have disappointed Hispanic voters and advocates across the country. And McCain's unveiling of his Spanish language website on Cinco de Mayo carried encouragement to hardliners that border security must first be addressed in America's immigration impasse.

In places like Nashville and in Maricopa County, deportation swings and other aggressive actions by local authorities have left undocumented workers and their families terrorized and their advocates outraged. McCain's intent to first seek the more punitive measure of border security smacks of just more piling on. Most undocumented workers have ended up in this country via temporary work visas. Then they've overstayed their legal term. Some have started families, often with U.S. citizens. Others like the good life we enjoy. Securing the border is not the issue.

The same contention that punitive measures must be pursued first in federal immigration legislation -- before addressing legalization and guest worker programs -- has been used by McCain's fellow Republicans to block needed action in Congress. And that impasse allows outrages like 287(g) to take hold. More than 3,000 immigrants have been deported the past year from Nashville under this program.

How does it work? First, immigrants are stopped for minor traffic offenses like driving without a seat belt on -- or in one instance, fishing without a license. When they cannot produce a driver's license with a picture because the state of Tennessee does not allow undocumented workers and their families to have licenses, they can get arrested and taken downtown for fingerprinting and processing. The sheriff's office then gets to rack up the political points by processing the immigrants through INS software. If they are found to be here illegally, the immigrants are held until the Feds arrive.

Yes, McCain did buck his own party last year in supporting comprehensive immigration reform instead of just punitive measures. Yes, he has spoken out at GOP debates that immigrants also are God's children. However, that's why his Cinco de Mayo comment stood out.

Some Hispanic politicos in Arizona are saying that the raids there have now put Arizona up for grabs in the general election. If McCain cannot carry his own state like Al Gore couldn't in the year 2000, he won't win the presidency.

McCain also has been caught using the term "illegal alien". That term just reinforces the stereotype that there is something mysteriously different and damaging about Hispanics. Citizen or not, we all get stained with the same brush. Hispanics are not extra-terrestials. We are like everyone else in the United States -- we go to church, we work hard in our jobs, we are dedicated to our families, we buy homes and pay property taxes and we fight and die in Iraq and Afghanistan.

McCain may be better than Hispanics could have hoped for from the GOP ranks. But that doesn't mean Hispanic voters have to settle for him. Bush took 45% of the Hispanic vote in 2004. He wouldn't come close to that if he could run again because of 287(g), raids across the country and the shocking detention and deaths of immigrants seeking refuge in the United States from political and violent persecution.

McCain will have to make up for his missteps and assure Hispanic voters that the days of punitive measures first on immigration are over. Then, he'll get a serious look and consideration.

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