The ever-contentious issue of immigration clocked in as the most-tweeted moment of the second presidential debate. It would seem logical to continue the discussion on Monday, touching on the international aspects of immigration. After all, 100 percent of immigrants come from foreign countries and some 60 percent of the undocumented immigrants at the heart of the debate over illegal immigration were born in Mexico, according to Pew Hispanic Center. Yet no one addressed how the U.S. government could work with Mexico to secure the border or ease the economic pressures that prompt people to emigrate from their homes.
The candidates like to say that we have to secure the U.S.-Mexico border as an urgent matter of national security. But apparently neither they nor moderator Bob Schieffer think the issue merits discussion at the presidential foreign policy debate. The U.S.-backed drug war in Mexico has killed an estimated 60,000 people since 2006. The U.S. government has already committed some $1.6 million in military aid to fight the cartels, but how do the candidates plan to address demands from the Mexican government to stem the flow of guns into their country, or to reduce American demand for drugs that fuels organized crime? Those questions are all the more urgent for the 33 million U.S. Latinos whose origins are Mexican.
Romney takes credit for the night’s only real mention of Latin America when he said he would push for more free trade in the region. “We’re all focused on China,” Romney said. “Latin America is a huge opportunity for us.” It’s a point Romney’s made on the campaign trail and in the second presidential debate this month. Unfortunately, he didn’t offer specifics, and neither Schieffer nor Obama pressed him. Romney campaign adviser Carlos Gutierrez, who served as Commerce Secretary under George W. Bush, told Bloomberg Romney would try to develop a free trade bloc among the countries with which the U.S. already has agreements in place. After years of wrangling over protections for trade unionists, Obama signed free trade trade agreements with Colombia and Panama last year. (As a U.S. senator, Obama had opposed the deal.)
After a half century of war, this month the Colombian government officially entered, once again, into exploratory peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia -- the country’s largest guerrilla group. That might seem like a big deal to U.S. presidential candidates. After all, the United States has dropped well over $6 billion on military aid targeting the insurgency and the related problem of drug trafficking. Plus, almost 1 million U.S. Hispanics are of Colombian origin. And yet, not a word.
The recent rumors that Fidel Castro’s health had taken a sharp turn for the worse after a prolonged absence from public life has a lot of people talking. Miami even updated its plan for how to deal with the ruckus if thousands of jubilant Cuban Americans poured into the streets to celebrate the former dictator’s death. But neither Obama nor Romney were interested in the topic. Planning any updates to the half-century-old embargo in the event of Fidel’s death? Do you expect the Castro government’s decision to loosen restrictions on Cubans’ ability to leave the island to have an impact on migration to the United States? Guess we’ll have to wait until after the election to find out what the candidates think.
Romney has painted cancer-stricken Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez as a threat to national security since the GOP primary. It’s not a position shared by the intelligence community. Nevertheless, it resonates with conservative Latinos, particularly exile-generation Cuban Americans and expat Venezuelans in the pivotal swing state of Florida. It would have been interesting to see the candidates debate the issue, given that whoever wins will likely have to spend the next four years dealing Chávez, who just won his third reelection this month.
If Monday night’s presidential debate is any indicator, Latin America is not a priority for these candidates.
Moderator Bob Schieffer mentioned the Cuban Missile crisis in passing as he opened the discussion. It was the last time Latin America played a major role. In a debate centered on foreign policy, President Barack Obama and his GOP opponent Mitt Romney found ways to mention Detroit and Massachusetts, while completely ignoring Mexico -- the country of origin of 60 percent of undocumented workers in the United States, the site of a U.S.-led drug war that has claimed an estimated 60,000 lives, and the ancestral country of some 33 million U.S. Latinos, according to Pew Hispanic Center. Mexico is also the United States' third largest trade partner, federal data indicates.
While Obama failed to refer to the region a single time, Romney alluded to Latin America twice. In one instance he called for expanded free trade in the region. During the other, Romney described Obama’s willingness to speak with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Cuban Head of State Raúl Castro as “unusual.” Neither comment prompted direct response from Obama or follow up questions from Schieffer.
Take a look above at 6 Latin America-related issues left out of the presidential foreign policy debate.
Twitter exploded with frustration at the oversight. We asked our followers why Latin America didn’t make it to the table tonight. Below we’ve rounded up some of the responses, as well as some freefloating tweets questioning Latin America’s omission from the agenda. Why do you think the candidates largely ignored Latin America? Let us know what you think in the comments