President Obama & The US Hispanic Community Today: Has He Delivered?

Without the support of the USA’s Spanish-speakers, Obama might not have won the election in November 2008. They are now looking to him to keep his promises. 67% of the Latino electorate voted for Obama compared to just 31% for his opponent, John McCain. 76% of them were under 30 years of age and 62% over.. This was achieved by assuring the Hispanic community that with him as President they would have more economic stability, greater accesss to affordable health care & higher education and (perhaps most important of all), millions of undocumented immigrants would be provided with ” a path to citizenship”. These are key issues for the Latinos: According to the Wall Street Journal, in a recession they are at most risk of losing their homes (6.7 per 1,000 compared to the national average of 4.5) and their jobs as well as being the last to be re-hired when the economy improves. At the beginning of 2009, 2.96 million of the 10 million unemployed workers in the USA were Hispanics. This problem is exacerbated by the tendency of young Latinos to drop out of High School at much higher rates than the rest of the population.

By the end of last year, some elements of the Latino press ( for example,La Prensa in San Diego) were already declaring that Obama was ‘failing the Hispanics’ and in particular was appointing too few Latinos to his Cabinet. Other Hispanic community publications have been prepared to wait a little longer before judging whether the new Administration is “taking their needs and interests into account”. The weekly ‘Hispanic Link’ has noted approvingly the choice (among several others) of Cecelia Munoz as White House Director of Inter-Governmental Affairs, Senator Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior, Hilda Solis as Labour Secretary and Louis Caldera to run the White House Military Office. This ‘historic progress’ is nonetheless overshadowed by the question of what to do with  the estimated 12 million illegal Latino immigrants, 3 million of whom live in California. In 2008, 350,000 of them were arrested and deported by the US immigration authorities. A post-election survey conducted by the immigrants’ rights organization ‘National Council of La Raza’ indicated that 67% of voters felt that ‘illegals’ should be given the chance to become official residents. The Hispanic Community is now waiting to see if  Obama will keep his word and push a new and favourable immigration law through Congress.

President Obama himself has been indicating he does not intend to renege on the expectations he encouraged during the election campaign. In February he appeared on “Piolin Por la Manana”, Los Angeles’ top morning TV show , to discuss the economic stimulus package and immigration reform. In March, he spoke in Spanish to the millions of viewers watching  Univision’s “Premio Lo Nuestro a La Musica Latina”, met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) to discuss immigration reform and opened the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce 19th Annual Legislative Conference. His weekly address to the nation and his press releases are all translated into Spanish. Despite the fears about a possible ‘swine flu pandemic’ ,he has not closed the border with Mexico. Before attending the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad & Tobago on 17th April, he declared in an interview with CNN En Espanol that “Times have changed….There’s no senior or junior partner” and declined to criticize the leaders of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. He has relaxed restrictions on travelling and sending money to Cuba. So far, so good. The US Hispanic Community, however, will be hoping for a lot more.

                                                                                                          

                                                                                                                          

Filed under: Politics | Posted on May 12th, 2009 by Colin D Gordon

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