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Chuck Schumer's Latino Problem

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What does it mean for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) that DREAM Act students, immigrant rights advocates and Latino organizations are protesting at and taking over the offices of Senator Chuck Schumer, the lead Democrat on immigration reform? What does it mean that some Latino social media outlets are asking, as the popular site Latino Rebels does, "What kind of message is an elected Democratic Senator (Schumer), a key figure in passing bipartisan comprehensive immigration legislation, sending to U.S. Latino voters? It is ok for Schumer to talk about being a champion of immigration reform, but when it comes to actually discussing it and trying to change the dialogue, he comes across as a insensitive nativist?"

The short answer is that Chuck Schumer has a "Latino problem," a big fat Latino problem that threatens not just Schumer's credibility as an "advocate" for immigration reform; the Latino problem also threatens to derail the post-electoral honeymoon between Latino voters and President Obama and the Democrats, if Schumer does not alter his extreme positions and language around immigration policy.

What has so many Latinos incensed with and protesting against Sen. Schumer is that, under the guise of "comprehensive immigration reform," he is pushing policies that run diametrically opposite to the real immigration reform that the Latino electorate demanded during and since the watershed election of 2012, according to recent polls.

A recent poll by the highly-respected Latino Decisions polling firm found that 70 percent of Latinos want comprehensive immigration reform centered in an approach that prioritizes a path to citizenship for all of the undocumented. Only 20 percent of Latinos favor having a handful of politicians determine that we have a "secure border" (something the FBI already certifies) as a prerequisite to providing the path to citizenship. The latter approach is Schumer's preferred approach.

The list of issues where Schumer and Latinos disagree is long -- and getting longer: most Americans, including most Latinos, oppose instituting national ID cards like the ones Sen. Schumer has long supported; on immigration enforcement, Schumer supports increasing spending even more taxpayer money for an immigration enforcement infrastructure already bloated by more than $18 billion of federal money in FY 2012 -- more than the budgets of DEA, FBI, ATF and other enforcement agencies combined. Latinos do not support this approach. Schumer supports and Latinos oppose guest worker programs that will exploit millions of future workers while also reducing the living wage of U.S. workers.

Most disturbing to my organization, Presente.org, is the fact that Senator Schumer has received over $100,000 in campaign contributions from the very corrupt corporations that build, manage and lobby for immigrant prisons. These corporations are among the primary opponents of the kind of real immigration reform supported by most Latino voters. Presente.org and its allies have launched a petition demanding that Senator Schumer stop taking money from prison companies that profit from jailing immigrants.

Schumer's approach to immigration reform is based on the false and dangerous idea that undocumented immigrants are "criminals." His hostile and aggressive defense of his regular use of the offensive terms "illegals" and "Illegal aliens," even after activists with the Drop the I-Word campaign demanded that he drop these terms, only adds insult to injury. The continuation and expansion of Sen. Schumer's Latino problem may crack open fissures in a very fragile Latino-Democrat coalition that does not agree on everything being called "comprehensive immigration reform."

Despite these concerns, many of us are confident that real immigration reform is possible. But real reform requires leadership, and, as the lead Democrat on immigration, Sen. Schumer must lead by fundamentally altering the radical course on immigration he has chosen. He can do so immediately by doing things like these: declaring that he does not support increased spending on immigration enforcement or one more cent on immigrant prisons until there is accountability; retracting his support for national identification programs as part of CIR; stating his opposition to unnecessary requirements that could exclude millions of undocumented people from a path to citizenship; he could once and for all encourage politicians to stop calling human beings "illegal"; and he should immediately give back the tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions he's received from the private prison industry.

Latinos came out strongly for the Democrats and have a deep desire to work with them towards real immigration reform, but we have limits. These limits are being tested by the lead Democrat on immigration reform, Senator Charles "Chuck" Schumer, the man with a Latino Problem that threatens his credibility and that of his party. We truly hope that Senator Schumer has a change of mind about his language and his immigration policies. We really do.