SANTIAGO - If Mitt Romney’s Mexican father had been deported or had not been able to enter the United States in July 1912, the Republican candidate would not have been born in Detroit in March 1947, Bain Capital would not have existed and, most probably, the citizens of the state of Massachusetts would not have an almost universal health care coverage as part of the system Romney put into place when he was governor from 2003 to 2007.
However, even more significantly, the five-year-old boy who came to the United States fleeing the Mexican Revolution, George W. Romney, who was made fun of and called “mex” by his classmates in Los Angeles, would never have become the CEO of the American Motor Corporation. He would never have been governor of Michigan, where he worked to advance civil rights and racial equality, and he never would have run for president.
Twelve million Latinos are expected to vote in the upcoming U.S. elections. Considering that John McCain lost to Obama in 2008, getting only 31% of the Latino vote compared with 40% for George W. Bush four years earlier, why doesn’t Romney talk more about his family history of immigration and success to seduce Latinos? There are three basic reasons.
The first reason is the most obvious: Mitt Romney does not have Latino heritage and the reason that his family was in Mexico is related to polygamy, a theme that is too subtle and controversial for electoral campaigns. But the next reasons are even more revealing: his party is divided on immigration.
The section of the party that is most mobilized and ideological is so opposed to immigration that the party’s official government platform includes an extension of the wall along the entire U.S.-Mexican border and putting into place a complex system of electronic verification so that employers can check the immigration status of employees.
Finally, the Republicans, but also some Democrats, are suffering from amnesia in these times of economic scarcity. They forget that the presence of immigrants is vital in many sectors of the economy, that they drive growth in good times by decreasing the prices of many services and creating a breeding ground for entrepreneurs who create a more dynamic economy. There is no way to describe this posture other than as disloyal to those who contribute so much more than is recognized to American prosperity.
President Obama doesn’t seem ready to become the enthusiastic hero of Hispanic Americans, nor is he prepared to reaffirm the country’s tradition of open borders. It seems that he is betting that the 65% support that he has among Latinos voters, according to recent polls, is enough. The truth is that the Democratic leader has not been able to advance the subject of immigration during his term.
The Dream Act did not pass Congress. Last August, he announced the first real measure related to immigration: a temporary amnesty for young, undocumented immigrants under 30, who can apply for a work permit. Given the ideological climate in the U.S., which resembles that of Latin America in the 1960s, Obama has been accused of issuing “imperial edicts” by the hardline wing of the Republican Party.
More modern, more practical
Unfortunately, in this subject as in others, the fantasy of an “American exceptionalism” (‘the notion that the U.S. plays a special role in world affairs’) drives both Democrats and Republicans to extreme and unreal positions.
As much as the U.S. cannot welcome the whole world into the country, it also cannot close itself off like a medieval fortress. The U.S. needs a migration policy that is modern and practical. The current laws lead to situations that are absurd to the point of being comical. A society with one of the most complicated security systems in the world refuses to recognize millions of people who are citizens for all practical purposes. Those people can spend a quarter of a century living a normal life and then suddenly be deported, by chance or because of a local political campaign. They are deported with their children who are U.S. citizens, with all the rights that come with that, and who are foreigners in their parents’ country.
That is only one example of the distortions caused by the lack of a coherent national policy on immigration. Such a policy should be created immediately. It should be generous with the people who have been living in the shadows and contributing to the creation of wealth in the country. It should be realistic and consider the undeniable attraction of the richest economy on earth that is surrounded by poor countries to the south. It should be clean and fair, and should get rid of racist and religious elements in its application and punishments.
Is this asking too much? It shouldn’t be, not for the politicians of the country that is called on, again and again, to take the lead in solving world problems that are much more complicated than this one. That immigration is not being discussed with clarity and reason during the campaign is understandable, but it is a bad sign in terms of the quality of American internal politics. And it is also a bad sign in terms of the importance those politicians give to the Latin American nations that the immigrants are coming from.