Recently, Senator Bob Menendez appeared on Univision’s Al Punto with Jorge Ramos to discuss the immigration issue in the context of the presidential race. Senator Menendez broke the issue down in terms of how Latino voters may be viewing the current crop of GOP candidates vis-a-vis President Obama on what has become a civil rights struggle for the Hispanic community.
Here’s a translated excerpt:
Jorge Ramos: Senator, thank you for being with us. I’m under the impression that the Republican Party and the White House expect Mitt Romney will be the Republican candidate and have started to attack him on the immigration issue. Am I right?
Bob Menendez: Well, I don’t know if he’ll be the nominee or not, but obviously, the position he’s taken in the Republican presidential debates and his statements in Iowa indicate that not only does he not support immigration reform at all, but that he’s currently willing, if he’s President, to veto any law such as the Dream Act, which should be the most simple and acceptable immigration reform to help our children achieve their dreams. And the fact is that this is part of the attitude we have seen in all of the Republican presidential debates, which I consider to be very much anti-immigrant.
Jorge Ramos: Now, if the Republicans stick to these positions, if Mitt Romney were the presidential nominee and he holds to this position, they will lose the Hispanic vote and in turn allow President Barack Obama to win. Is that what you’re betting on?
Bob Menendez: Well, what we are saying is that our community must know who is on their side. Without a doubt, our community cares about things such as the economy, jobs, health, their children’s education. But they also know that the immigration issue is a question of civil rights for our community, for our time, and even though we are American citizens or permanent residents, we recognize that millions of our brothers and sisters are undocumented. So when Mitt Romney says that he will veto the Dream Act if he’s president and that he does not support immigration reform, and he speaks about immigrants in a way that is really negative, our community needs to know about it so they can make decisions next November, and that is why in all polls of the Hispanic community that I’ve seen regarding Mr. Romney, he’s one percent below where John McCain was when he ran for president in the last election.
Jorge Ramos: Senator, you just told us that you want to tell the community who is on their side. I understand Mitt Romney’s position, which many consider anti-immigrant, but many Hispanic voters, and you know this perfectly well, have told us that they’re also frustrated with President Barack Obama, not just because he didn’t deliver on his promise of an immigration bill the first year, but also because he has deported more than one million undocumented immigrants, many of them without a criminal record. How can you argue, then, in favor of many voters choosing President Barack Obama?
Bob Menendez: Well, number one, this president has spoken out in favor of immigration reform. Unfortunately, the country’s economic consequences that he faced, the crisis, took center stage and so we lost the majority in Congress, with the Republicans in the House, and a long time ago, in the Senate, where it is not necessary to have a super majority to approve an immigration reform. We haven’t been able to get it done. So that is the reality we face with regard to President Obama, but we have seen that he has used his administrative authority in the way he used it today: to let our families petition for family reunification here, in the United States, without having to leave the country to go to their country of origin, which could divide families for a long time. This statement today is another example of President Obama using his executive power. What’s lacking is a Congress that is willing to vote for immigration reform, which he has said he is willing to sign. Very different from Mitt Romney, who says he will veto immigration reforms.
Mitt Romney has recently likened the DREAM Act, which would provide undocumented youth who complete college and/or military service a path toward citizenship, to a “handout.” But the latest versions of the DREAM Act require candidates to graduate from an American high school or receive a GED, to be of “good moral character,” and to have completed two years of college and/or military service. And even these youth who meet these requirements and who are enrolled in college would still not be eligible for federal student aid.
Senator Menendez contrasted Mitt Romney’s position with that of the President, who has received his share of criticism from the Latino community on his record breaking deportations. The President has indicated that he would sign the DREAM Act into law if it passes in Congress and does support comprehensive immigration reform.
This week the Obama administration announced some regulatory changes that would streamline the process by which undocumented people with American citizen relatives could apply for legal residency. These changes will help prevent the separation of spouses and children from parents, as they will primarily impact immediate family members. One dilemma that many undocumented people with citizen family members have is that they have to return to their country of origin and then are barred from entry into the US for at least three years. As Senator Menendez suggested, this move by the President indicates his willingness to be flexible on the immigration issue by providing relief to families.
Latino voters will be paying close attention to the rhetoric of all the candidates on immigration this year, but they will also continue to monitor the actions of President Obama because of what many perceive to be a broken promise in not passing comprehensive immigration reform.