When the President of the United States pleaded to members of Congress last January 20 not to "run to the hills" and get to the business of solving America's problems, he was probably referring to his reading of the tea leaves after Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts. Or, the President may just as well have been referring to a report issued this week by America's Voice warning politicians on both sides of the aisle that Latinos could make or break more than a few campaigns this midterm election.
The report entitled "The Power of the Latino Vote in the 2010 Elections - They Tipped Elections in 2008; Where Will they Be in 2010?", clearly points to the fact that Latinos could impact at least 40 congressional races if Congress and the White House fail to overhaul the nation's broken immigration system. The President knows this, but do Democrats and Republicans in Congress?
Whatever method the President may have used to foresee the future, he was right on when he issued his call during the State of the Union Address. Americans have enjoyed the beautiful rhetoric that has come to represent Mr. Obama's first year. Americans, but in particular Latino voters, wholeheartedly believed in the promise for change that was made to us by then Senator Obama. More than 10 million Latinos voted in November 2008. The Senator for Illinois picked 67 percent of the Latino vote while the Senator for Arizona received 31 percent. But Americans have also come to realize very quickly that talk comes cheap and that only real change brings food to the table or frees a loved one from the grasp of an unlawful employer that exploits an undocumented workforce.
Given the snail's pace discussions in Congress to pass tough, fair, and practical immigration reform, it is no wonder that while Congress continues to sweet talk the Latino electorate, our families, our communities, and our nation must face one more year with immigration laws that ought to reflect our interests and values but do not. This paralysis pleases neither the most ardent anti-immigrant activists nor the immigrant family that has been living and working in the United States for decades, but is condemned to live in the shadows because a member of that family entered the country without our government's permission. All of us agree the time to fix this serious problem has come. And the solution must be bipartisan.
California is blessed with the largest delegation in Congress (53 Representative and 2 Senators) and one that holds key leadership positions. To a regular voter in California, our elected leaders could be a leading force in most major issues clogging the Congressional agenda. Take for example our two senators: Dianne Feinstein chairs the Select Intelligence Committee and is a member of the powerful Appropriations, Judiciary, and Rules and Administration committees. California's Junior Senator, Barbara Boxer, chairs the Public Works and the Select Ethics committees and is a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee as well as the Foreign Relations Committee. Not bad for a state with the lowest credit rating in the nation.
The representation in the House is just as well-positioned to lead and stop playing politics and kicking the ball to the next Congress. Beginning with the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-8th District), Xavier Becerra (D-31st District), Zoe Lofgren (D-16th District), Henry A. Waxman (D-30th District), Loretta Sanchez (D-41st District), and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-34th District), there is no reason why immigration reform could not have been approved already followed by the Senate's version. Oh, wait, but there's one more unique club all of these legislators belong to: they represent the state with the largest number of immigrant families and immigrant voters in the nation. I am certain they remember this unique fact every time they feel the urge to run away from issues that deeply impact Californians, such as the economy, health care, immigration reform, and the environment.
For some odd reason, though, we are witnessing the day when even the most ardent seekers of the immigrant vote are nowhere to be found. In places like Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and South Carolina, we are literally seeing elected leaders who sought our vote in 2008 get on the campaign express and flee to the hills. Unfortunately for them, though, they are not heading to Capitol Hill where the hard work needs to be done.
Nothing in politics is a sure thing, but politicians have it all wrong when it comes to immigration reform. Some Democrats and many Republicans see this topic as the third rail of American politics. The naysayers could not be farther from the truth. Immigration reform is an issue that unites both parties, is sure to boost our economy with the addition of $1.3 trillion in domestic gross product, and helps America secure its borders, crack down on employers who abuse the system, and requires those who entered this country without our permission to pass background checks, pay taxes, and learn English while they earn their chance to become taxpaying American citizens.
On February 20th, CHIRLA and other immigrant rights organizations in Los Angeles will hold a town hall in Santa Monica with invited guests Senator Boxer, Congressman Becerra, and Congressman Waxman. The crowd of more than 500 expects to hear from their elected leaders the type of leadership they will exercise on this very important topic to Californians during the crucial next three months. Will they run to the proverbial hills, worried only about their next election, or will they jog along with us to Capitol Hill to do the people's business? We will have to see and remember their actions come November 2.