US should be proud of Latino immigration, Obama says

Neil Munro | White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama’s 2014 campaign team is spotlighting his emotional pitch to Latino voters, saying “our increasing Latino population should be a source of pride and strength.”

The Thursday tweet by Organizing For America showcased Obama’s statement from an interview with the Spanish-language Telemundo network.

“We know that 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 30 years from now, there are going to be more people of Latino heritage here in the United States, and that should be a source of pride and a source of strength,” he told Telemundo’s Denver anchor, Maria Rozmán.

The interview was one of four that Obama did July 16 with Spanish-language TV shows to help build support for the controversial immigration rewrite that would double immigration to add 46 million immigrants to the country by 2033.

The praise for large-scale Latino immigration is the flip-side of Obama’s repeated suggestions that GOP opposition to low-skill immigration shows disrespect for Latinos and Latino culture.

That angle is also highlighted by amnesty-supporting pollsters. “Only 29 percent of Latinos felt the Republican Party ‘respects the Latino community’ while 67 percent said they did not,” according to a July survey by Latino Decisions.

Obama’s praise for the increased diversity caused by Latino migration reflects many progressives’ preference for creating cultural and social variety in place of the broadly-held social consensus that has evolved in many mostly-white suburban and rural communities.

But it also illustrates Democrats’ hard-headed efforts to gain politically from the political and economic conflict spurred by the arrival of tens of millions of low-skill and poor Hispanics since 1965.

In general, Democrats have offered to give immigrant Latinos government aid, in the correct expectation they will get their votes in legislative and presidential elections. In 2012, for example, Obama won 71 percent of the Latinos’ vote, which comprised 8.4 percent of the electorate.

The GOP’s best performance with Latinos came in 2004, when incumbent President George W. Bush won 40 percent during an housing bubble that temporarily provided jobs and houses to many blue-collar Latinos in the southern states.

In one of his July 16 interviews, Obama noted the gradual demographic shift, and also the GOP’s growing concern over its political consequences.

“I think some [GOP members] in the House who believe that immigration will encourage further demographic changes — [believe] that may not be good for them politically,” he told an interviewer from KXTX, a Telemundo affiliate in Fort Worth, Texas.

“Many of their constituents are suspicious of this, suspicious of what immigration might mean for their political futures in some cases,” he added.

In repeated speeches and statements, Obama has lauded what he says is Latinos’ contribution to the United States.

So far, that contribution has been modest, because many Latino immigrants and natives are low-skilled and lack good English.

For example, Obama has established a mini-amnesty for foreigners who were brought into the country as children. Many have attended government schools for a decade, and still many lack basic skills.

A report by the Migration Policy Institute, which generally favors Latino immigration, said the amnesty could extend to 800,000 K-12 students, plus 140,000 students enrolled in two-year or four-year colleges, 80,000 Latinos with a college degree and 740,000 Latinos who have a high-school education or who dropped out of high-school.

“We’ve been able to provide help through deferred action for young people and students — the “Dreamers” — who I’ve had a chance to meet with,” Obama said in an interview with a Univision TV station, WXTV-Univision 41, with audiences in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

“They’re just incredible young people and great assets to the United States,” he said.

GOP leaders are also trying to demonstrate respect for Latinos and Latino culture. Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, has established new deputies to aid outreach to Latino voters.

Some GOP leaders, including Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, say that an immigration rewrite could help boost GOP support among Latinos, and also praise Latinos’ culture.

“I live in Miami where half the people in my vibrant beautiful place were born outside the United States,” he said at a June 1 appearance at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “When I finally make it home, normally on a Friday afternoon, I spend the night with my … [Mexican-born] wife who was born outside the United States,” he said.

“That [diversity] is the unique American experience that I have had the blessing, truly a blessing, to be able to experience in a way that adds a tremendous amount of vitality to my life,” he said.

But Bush also suggested that many Hispanic immigrants won’t ever vote GOP. “My hope is … they will not apply for citizenship… They want to come out of the shadows and be treated with dignity and respect, they don’t necessarily want to be citizens,” he said.

In contrast, other GOP leaders, such as Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, argue that the GOP can gain more votes from lower-income Americans — white, Latino and African-American — by spurring wage growth via a slowdown in immigration. That appeal to economic self-interest would demonstrate respect for immigrant Latinos by treating them identically to native-born Americans, muting ethnic appeals by Obama and his allies, say people in this GOP wing.

“The response should be to treat Americans of Latin background as Americans,” said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which seeks to reduce immigration below its current level of 1 million.

“Their private ethnic interests should be respected, just as anyone else’s is — if they want to have 15th birthday parties for their daughters, that’s fine — but they need to be addressed as Americans because that’s what they are,” he said.

“Obama’s comment is more like ethnic triumphalism,” said Krikorian. “What he’s saying is that American is better when it is different, and it will be improved by immigration.”

Currently, immigration rules annually add 1 million immigrants per year, plus roughly 650,000 short-term and long-term non-farm guest-workers, despite a steady drop in wages and in the percentage of Americans with jobs. The Senate bill passed in late June would double the inflow to roughly 46 million immigrants by 2033, and boost the number of non-farm guest-workers to roughly 1 million per year.

Latino immigrants are varied, and include skilled and unskilled immigrants from very different countries, including Cuba, Colombia, El Salvador and Mexico.

Roughly 65 percent of the U.S. Latino population has ties with Mexico, and they tend to be the poorest group.

“The median annual personal earnings for Mexicans ages 16 and older were $20,000 in [2010]… the same as for U.S. Hispanics in total; the median earnings for the U.S. population were $29,000,” said a June 2013 report by the Pew Research Hispanic Center, titled “Hispanics of Mexican Origin in the United States, 2011.

“An estimated 33.5 million Hispanics of Mexican origin resided in the United States in 2011… some 10 percent of Mexicans ages 25 and older — compared with 13 percent of all U.S. Hispanics and 29 percent among the entire U.S. population — have obtained at least a bachelor’s degree,” according to the Pew report.

“The share of Mexicans who live in poverty, 28 percent, is higher than the rate for the general U.S. population (16 percent) and slightly higher than the rate for Hispanics overall (26 percent),” it added.

The education level among the Latino illegal immigrants is even lower.

For example, roughly half the 11 million illegals in the United States don’t speak English at all or well, according to the MPI.

If the Senate immigration rewrite becomes law, the 11 million would be allowed to live and work in the United States, and be placed on track to win U.S. citizenship.

The 11 million would cost taxpayers $11.3 trillion in federal services over the next 50 years, according to a May report by the Heritage Foundation.The massive bill would be partially offset by the 11 million’s various tax payments, which would add up to only $1 trillion every decade.

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