Hispanics Split Over Obama’s Border Meltdown

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

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.

One reporter at the White House described the protests as “ugliness and… rancor.” On MSNBC, Chris Hayes hosted an activist who declared that “I have never seen something so vile and so hateful like those fifty people that were out there screaming at children and mothers… it was one of the worst days of my life.”

“The whole world is watching, and I really believe, Chris, this could be a turning point in the immigration debate,” said the activist, Enrique Morones, the U.S.-born founder of the Border Angels group. “This could be our Rosa Parks moment… these children are our children, they are all of our children… we’re glad they came,” he said.

After the protest, the buses were rerouted to another border patrol facility in nearby San Diego.

Jose Diaz-Balart, a news anchor on Telemundo, slammed radio host Rush Limbaugh after he said the government was carelessly dumping kids in the street, even though ordinary Americans aren’t allowed to abandon dogs. But the migrants are understandably fleeing terrible conditions in their homelands, Diaz-Balart said. “What would you do if your child was being raped, or being destroyed by gangs. What would you be willing to do for your children?” he said.

Obama’s D.C. allies welcomed the clash. The “GOP should be very, very afraid,” said a June 3 tweet from America’s Voice, which wants an immigration increase.

“The administration has inadvertently amped up the emotion by portraying the migrants as kids,” said Navarette. “It plays on the heartstring because we know that family is incredibly important and the children are incredibly important,” he said.

In fact, the flow of migrants is mostly mothers with small kids, or teenagers 15 and older. Only about 10 percent of the inflow consists of kids aged 14 or below, and many of them have been delivered to the border patrol by smugglers working for U.S.-based parents.

The clash in Murrieta may be replicated across the country.

Americans have already blocked numerous White House efforts to transfer the poor migrants into their neighborhoods.

Americans have protested and blocked holding camps in Rochester, Buffalo and Bethpage in New York; Hazelton, Pennsylvania; Baltimore, Maryland; Lawrenceville, Virginia; Chicago; Anniston, Alabama; as well as Escondido, California. In response, White House officials are housing some of the growing number of migrants at government bases — such as Murrieta — prior to their release into the United States.

Some GOP leaders have slammed Obama for engineering or carelessly allowing the surge of migrants across the border by relaxing enforcement of immigration laws.

For example, Obama has given work permits to at least 560,000 younger illegals, and has reduced deportations from the country’s interior by roughly 40 percent since 2009.

The GOP leadership has blamed Obama for the crisis, but hasn’t rallied public opposition against Obama’s immigration priorities or the migrants.

Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold tried to mute protests by saying his neighborhood hasn’t been impacted by the arrival of several hundred migrants at a government facility. “It’s not a problem for the community… [and] the whole country needs to step up and help out,” he told MSNBC.

Most Democratic leaders have welcomed the wave of migrants. But Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar has vociferously demanded a stop to the inflow. “If we don’t detain and immediately remove them — like we do with Mexican [illegal immigrants] — then they’re going to keep coming,” Cuellar told Breitbart News.

The immigrants are coming because “they’re realizing, ‘Hey, if you come to the U.S. with kids, they’re going to give you a notice to appear. And with that you can get on a bus and just travel’… [but the U.S.] message needs to be, ‘We’re going to return you [home] as quickly as possible,’” he said.

Cuellar’s district stretches from just south of San Antonio all the way to the border. Roughly 76 percent of the district is Hispanic, but it only leans slightly Democratic, partly because it includes many middle-class Hispanics who worry about schools, taxes, crime and their social status.

Many American Latinos share the same mix of concerns.

Fifty-nine percent of Hispanics in a 2012 poll by the Pew Research Center agreed that “We should restrict and control people coming to live in our country more than we do now.”

A June 2013 Gallup poll showed that only 25 percent of Hispanics want immigration increased, while 30 percent wanted immigration reduced, and 43 percent want it to stay level.

A May 2014 poll by Latino Decisions reported that 72 percent of respondents agreed with a statement asking, “Do you think how undocumented immigrants are viewed by the general public also affects how U.S.-born Latinos are viewed?”

A June 2014 poll of 800 registered Latinos by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg showed that “77 percent [support] for an e-verify system for employers, 78 percent for stronger border security, and 90 percent for allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status if they pass a background check, pay a fine and taxes owed, have a job, and learn English.”

A June 2013 poll by John McLaughlin that included 470 registered Hispanic voters showed that 64 percent wanted employees to verify that job applicants are legal, and 59 percent wanted enough border security to block 90 percent of border crossers. Sixty percent of the respondents in the poll said they would delay legalization of illegals until the 90 percent border-security level is reached, and 56 percent would deny welfare benefits to illegals until the border is fixed.

Both the Zuckerberg and the McLaughlin polls also showed much solidarity with illegal immigrants.

The McLaughlin poll, which was conducted for a vineyard that wants more Hispanic farm-workers, showed that 77 percent of Hispanic adults support a simultaneous amnesty and border-security increase.

The poll by Zuckerberg showed that “90 percent [of Hispanic voters are] for allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status if they pass a background check, pay a fine and taxes owed, have a job, and learn English.”

Those polls highlight the Hispanic ambivalence identified by Navarette — and the possibility that local roadside protests could escalate into a divisive ethnic clash that would spur a pro-Democratic turnout in November.

“On the one hand, [Hispanics] have the concerns this [migration] might reflect badly on them, and in the next breath, have a real concern concern about the kids,” Navarette said. “We’re reactive, not proactive.”

Follow Neil on Twitter