The sleeping giant grumbles

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I was going to do a post on the huge protests occuring throughout the country this week, which are being sparked by moves in Congress to crack down on illegal immigrants:

How does the United States count the cost of at least 11 million immigrants living and often working outside the law?

For business groups – now urging a path to citizenship or other legal status for such workers – it’s the lower cost of a head of lettuce, new home construction, or a restaurant tab, because these people will do the work that Americans won’t.

For local officials across the country – no longer just those near a border – it’s the strain illegals pose to schools, hospital emergency rooms, law enforcement, and other social services, driving municipal budgets deep into the red.

For illegal immigrants and their supporters – rallying by the hundreds of thousands around the country in the run-up to this debate – the issue is freedom from fear.

500,000 Pack Streets to Protest Immigration Bills

As I was saying, I was going to do a post on the subject, and provide some thoughts on how this is good for progressives and bad for Republicans, but David Niewart over at Orcinus has a post so thorough I won’t even try:

The Associated Press report of the rally noted that the legislation “would make it a felony to be in the U.S. illegally. It also would impose new penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants, require churches to check the legal status of parishioners before helping them and erect fences along one-third of the U.S.-Mexican border.”

The Republicans in Congress who spearheaded these measures — particularly Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado and Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin — represent a resurgent Cro-Magnon wing of the party, one that is threatening to swamp the genteel grip of corporate conservatives whose approach to immigration is decidedly different, if equally poisonous.

The Cro-Magnon approach, embodied by vigilantes like the Minutemen, is to blame the pawns. Their policies are predicated on the laughable idea that we can build a fortress wall around the country and just keep people out, a pretty notion that quickly runs aground on the reality that no wall can contain the larger forces driving illegal immigration. They consistently scapegoat the emigres while ignoring — and indeed abetting — those same larger forces. (emphasis mine)

Go check out his work, his analysis is spot on:

So what the American far right is doing is appealing to white Americans’ base racial instincts: associating the immigrants with crime and disease, accusing them of being part of a “conspiracy,” complaining that they’re polluting white culture. These are all significant features of the rhetoric used by both the Minutemen and their supporters in Congress. (emphasis mine)

Two weeks ago, Dr. Magdaleno Manzanarez presented a discussion on Hispanic/Latino issues at the Grant County Democratic Party’s issue lunch. If you missed it, check with CATS. Nonetheless, one of the items he spoke about was the so-called sleeping giant: a bloc of unified Hispanic voters. As the largest (and fastest growing) minority in America, with 40 million people, this sleeping giant could easily sway any election in which it participates. No wonder Bush is calling for “civic debate.”

Education in New Mexico

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Well, it doesn’t look like there’s much going on in New Mexico right now, because everybody is waiting for the start of the legislative session tomorrow. And, to be honest, it makes sense: today is a holiday, so most folk in the Land of Enchantment are happily relaxing on their day off (I know I’m enjoying my afternoon away from the office).

Joe Monahan brought up ex-Gov. Carruthers’ remarks on education in the state again today, and since I haven’t commented yet I figured I might as well do so now.

Carruthers, while a bit harsh in his comments, is also on to something. Minority students in this state face much tougher obstacles to obtaining a high-quality education than their white peers. One could go on and on about the numerous studies that link poverty and educational attainment.

The former gov is right on another point: the key will be better preparation for college. I’ve heard quite a bit of talk lately about the changing education landscape, and the need for more vocational schools and programs. While demand for these courses is up, we should be fighting the trend rather than encouraging it.

There will always be a place in our system for those who choose not to attend college. However, we should make every effort to persuade students that a university degree is a valid, nay, desirable goal. The U.S. is already behind Europe (and soon Asia) in several factors of scientific achievement, and the gap will continue to widen if we don’t change our priorities soon.

So, while it’s great the WNMU will likely receive $1 million for a vocational training center, I’m more pleased to hear the school plans to offer a wider array of college courses to high school students around the state. And, though I may have been opposed to need-based scholarships several years ago, I think they make all kinds of sense now. Gov. Richardson hopes to make a $50 million investment in the scholarships, and this is a step in the right direction.

However, regardless of how much help you give college freshmen financially, their families need help while the kids are still in middle and high school. A minimum wage hike, long a goal of progressives in the state, is also long overdue. It’s simply ridiculous to think that a 1997 wage is adequate for families in 2006.

Simply put, everybody in New Mexico needs to pay more attention to education: from the parents who struggle with two or three jobs just to put food on the table, to the research scientists at our national laboratories, to our elected officials in Santa Fe. We need policies that will help those who need help the most, and we need to take a serious look at our flawed system of teaching children. Stop-gap measures only serve to buy us time, and, as Carruthers pointed out, time is something that is desperately in short supply.

Whither the Hispanic Vote, Dems?

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This release from The Latino Coalition has some startling results for Democrats:

When asked what party they identify with, Democrats outpaced Republicans by a margin of 58 percent to 23 percent, compared to a margin of 52 percent to 29 percent last year. If the midterm congressional elections were held today, Democrats would win overwhelmingly with a margin of 61 percent to 21 percent, compared to last year’s 56 percent to 30 percent. “The Republican Party is rapidly losing all the gains they achieved under President Bush in the Hispanic community,” Deposada added. “If the GOP wants to remain competitive among Hispanic voters, they need to wage an all out effort to regain the momentum.”

So, why is this startling? This should be something Democrats hope to capitalize on, right? Well, let’s not put the cart before the horse:

The debate over immigration reform appears to be one of the hottest issues in the upcoming elections and is a perfect example of this diversity. “Hispanic registered voters are strongly supporting initiatives to reform immigration while penalizing illegal behavior. A majority of Hispanic voters (52.4 percent) support initiatives that would not allow people who entered this county illegally to become citizens unless they reapply from their country of origin,” Deposada said. “By a margin of 50 percent to 41 percent, Hispanic voters support increasing the number of border patrol agents in our southern border, and also support new laws to make sure that employers can only hire workers who are in the U.S. legally (50 percent to 41 percent). An overwhelming majority of 82 percent support the creation of a new Temporary Worker Program. Also a plurality (41.2 percent to 39.9 percent) support imposing a fine of at least $2,000 for illegal immigrants in order to gain legal employment as a temporary worker in the U.S.” (emphasis mine)

Basically, Latinos identify with Democrats; but those registered to vote are more likely to support candidates who will implement hard-line immigration reform.

In my mind, this is not something Dems can trumpet. Immigration reform is being championed by the likes of Tom Tancredo, though David Pfeffer might like these numbers if he knows how to move on them.

It seems that Republicans have a better chance of recouping Hispanic votes than of losing any more, especially if they make immigration a central issue.

UFW Betraying Chavez’s Legacy?

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Kevin linked to this article over at the LA Times. The first in a four-part series, which highlights the activities and focus of the United Farm Workers, the article comes out pretty hard against the organization:

The current UFW leaders have jettisoned other Chavez principles:

The UFW undercut another union to sign up construction workers, poaching on the turf of building trade unions that once were allies.

The UFW forfeited the right to boycott supermarkets and stores, a tactic Chavez pioneered, in order to sign up members in unrelated professions.

And Chavez’s heirs broke with labor solidarity and hired nonunion workers to build the $3.2-million National Chavez Center around their founder’s grave in the Tehachapi Mountains, a site they now market as a tourist attraction and rent out for weddings.

A few hundred miles away, in the canyons of Carlsbad north of San Diego, hundreds of farmworkers burrow into the hills each year, covering their shacks with leaves and branches to stay out of view of multimilliondollar homes. They live without drinking water, toilets, refrigeration. Fireworks and music from nearby Legoland pierce the nighttime skies.

While the UFW is doing good work for poor Latinos across the country, the article says farmworkers are reaping few benefits:

Rather than making elections and contracts its primary focus, the UFW has concentrated on selling annual memberships for $40 a year to build grass-roots support. They remind workers that the laminated membership cards can be used for identification, something many undocumented workers lack.

Pedro Lopez is convinced that only contracts will protect the Santa Maria farmworkers. “Fear is the main problem,” Lopez said. “But with a good guide, they’d lose the fear. When they get results, workers aren’t scared.”

In the garage of the small house where Lopez is raising five children, across from acres of vegetable fields, a handful of leaders of the United Mixtec Farmworkers meet each Saturday to strategize. They are not quite sure how to proceed, but they know they’re on their own.

“The UFW says, ‘Organize yourselves first,’ “Lopez said. “People say, ‘If we have to do that anyway, what do we need them for?'”

The article is hefty, but well worth the time. I was saddened to hear about the consstruction of low-income housing, which was built with non-union labor, and of the poor conditions in which many of the farmworkers live.

It will be interesting to read the next three articles, especially the one that delves into the money side of the operation: “The family business: Insiders benefit amid a complex web of charities.”