Polls show that American Latinos have deeply ambivalent views about the 100,000-plus illegal immigrants flooding across the American border with Mexico.
Lopsided majorities say they want tighter border security and lopsided majorities say they illegal immigrants to be accepted.
“There are Hispanics who are conflicted, because they worry about the quality of life, immigrants coming into their neighborhoods [and] about their jobs,” said Ruben Navarette, a native Californian and a nationally syndicated columnist.
“When the [political] water is calm and immigration is not a hot issue, you get Hispanics engaged in discussions saying ‘I worry about border security and jobs,’ but when the [political] water bubbles, it makes them come together and circle the wagons,” Navarette said.
But it is easy for the White House to stir those waters in the months before each election — and Obama’s lax border security is now creating a storm.
The storm arrived June 1 at Murrieta, Calif., when the local mayor and various neighbors — white and Latino, men and women — blocked a convoy of buses carrying roughly 140 penniless and uneducated migrants to a local border patrol station.
The migrants were to be processed at the station, and to be released with a document that allows them to stay in the U.S. until immigration judges decide their cases in a few years. Most of the migrants are expected to leave the town and join their relatives in the nearby L.A. suburbs.
But the protesters were challenged by prepared pro-immigration protestors, led by Lupillo Rivera. He’s a successful Spanish-language singer and the brother of another famous singer, Jenni Rivera. Both arrived in California as illegal immigrants.
With his supporters, Rivera waded among the protesters, carrying a sign that implied the illegals should be allowed to stay — “Americans are Immigrants.”
During the subsequent shouting match, a protester spat on Rivera’s face, garnering sympathetic media coverage from Spanish language TV stations.
“If you’re a Mexican American who works hard, and you see a mostly white group of people surrounding a bus [of migrants], you don’t really think ‘That’s great,’ you’re more inclined to speak out against the mob,” Navarette said.
“Latinos tend to get politically active when something happens to them,” he said. “We’re reactive, and we tend to vote against things,” such as hostility to Latinos.
“These people aren’t protesting foreigners, they’re protesting a White House that has caused this crisis to occur,” responded a Capitol Hill aide.
Now Obama’s 2014 campaign aides will try to exploit the clashes to boost turnout by Latinos in November, the aide predicted. “Of course they will,” he said.
By November, Obama needs to boost his support among Latinos because the lousy economy has dragged his ratings down, even among Latinos.
To minimize the tension, local community leaders need to “make sure their national elected officials understand what has been done to them, and that they need to get behind humane and lawful policy solutions… not the president’s policies which are designed to divide the country for political gain,” the aide said.
Murrieta’s mayor, Alan Long, has tried to keep the protests civil and avoid any ethnic clash. At a city council meeting on Tuesday, he told locals to “please remember these are human beings that are fleeing the violence in their home countries.”
“The problem is that they need to come into this country the legal way,” Long said.