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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Time for a Latino Political Party?


Time for a Latino Political Party?

Frustrated Hispanic-American voters might strike out on their own. Then what?

In the late 1800s, disgruntled farmers in the Midwest and South decided they could no longer support the Democratic or Republican Parties. Neither of the major parties was responsive to their concerns amid crop failures and falling prices during a recession, so the farmers decided to throw their weight behind an upstart, the Populist or People’s Party. White and black farmers joined together, even in the South, to support candidates who called for the federal government to provide credit and financial support during a time of low crop yields and economic downturn. They succeeded in electing governors, congressmen and hundreds of minor officials and legislators, primarily throughout the Midwest. The party was geographically concentrated, which allowed them to focus their efforts to elect congressional candidates.

The Populists lasted only a few years as an independent entity, but their success clearly got the attention of the mainstream parties. Most important, it had a lasting impact on policy, even beyond the issues pushed by the farmers. Many of the Populists’ demands became law by the 1920s—including the direct election of U. S. senators, the development of a progressive federal income tax and the availability of short-term credit in rural areas.

Latinos in the United States are now confronting a dilemma similar to the one faced by the farmers. A recent Gallup poll indicates that the number of Latinos ranking immigration as a top issue doubled since the first half of this year. Yet Latinos have been forced to endure bitter disappointment from a Democratic president who has broken many immigration promises, in no small measure because the Republican-led House of Representatives refuses to act on immigration reform in Congress. The president’s decision to defer deportation of newly arrived children—a decision announced just five months before the 2012 presidential election—increased enthusiasm for Obama among Latinos; 71 percent of the record 11.2 million Latinos who turned out to vote cast their ballot for Obama.

Many of them are now deeply disappointed. The president—who had campaigned in 2008 on a pledge to reform the immigration system—again promised to make the issue an early and top priority during his second term. Congress stymied those efforts, so Obama pledged to take executive action—only to delay it until after the midterms. No wonder a new Pew Research Center poll shows that a majority of Latino voters think the Democratic Party is doing a poor job on immigration, and a different recent survey indicates substantially dampened enthusiasm for Obama and the Democrats among Latino voters because of inaction on immigration reform. Even as the president tried to smooth over differences this week at an appearance before the Congressional Hispanic Caucus annual gala, some frustrated Latino activists are contemplating deliberately sitting out the midterm election to make Democrats pay a price at the polls.

Many of them are now deeply disappointed. The president—who had campaigned in 2008 on a pledge to reform the immigration system—again promised to make the issue an early and top priority during his second term. Congress stymied those efforts, so Obama pledged to take executive action—only to delay it until after the midterms. Now wonder a new Pew Research Center poll shows that a majority of Latino voters think the Democratic Party is doing a poor job on immigration, and a different recent survey indicates substantially dampened enthusiasm for Obama and the Democrats among Latino voters because of inaction on immigration reform. Because of their profound disappointment with the Democrats’ inaction, some frustrated Latino activists are even contemplating deliberately sitting out the midterm election to make Democrats pay a price at the polls.

But are these the only alternatives—stay home and sulk, or accept the better of two bad options? Could it be time for Latinos to follow the path forged by the disgruntled farmers? Or follow the model in Europe, where third parties are fairly common?

In Europe, minorities and special interests often form their own parties when they feel their issues are not being championed by larger parties. This is most easily done in countries with proportional representation, which allows more than one representative for each district and—unlike winner-take-all systems like most of the United States—allocate seats based on the percentage of votes garnered by each contender. In such a system, minor parties are often able to gain enough support to win seats in legislatures. Examples include Basque nationalists in Spain, as well as Green and far-right parties across Europe. In places like Britain that have majoritarian systems with single-member districts, geographically concentrated parties like the Scottish National Party are able to win seats in Parliament. Even here in the United States, the occasional small party or independent can win a seat, including in the U.S. Senate. (One example: Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent who caucuses with Democrats.)

As relative newcomers, immigrants often don’t have the money or other resources needed to start a new party. Far-right party leaders, on the other hand, tend to come from existing parties and have a built-in support network.

Indeed, in Europe’s multi-party system, it has been anti-immigrant far right parties that have taken hold. We have an analogue in the Tea Party in the United States. Yet the Tea Party is not truly a separate party—at least for now, it is a faction within the Republican Party that has managed to set the agenda on issues like immigration.

By and large, majoritarian electoral rules like ours produce two-party systems. There is no hope in the foreseeable future that those rules will change and that means that small parties, like the Populist Party, inevitably disappear or, like the Libertarian and Green Parties, remain on the fringes of a system dominated by the two major parties.

Still, there are some reasons—42 million of them, to start with—to think that a Latino party could be different. Various ethnic groups have historically wielded a great deal of influence within political parties, particularly at the local and state levels. The German-American Alliance, the Ancient Order of Hibernians (“the oldest and largest Irish Catholic organization in the United States”) and the Immigrant’s Protection League all mobilized against the restriction of immigration in the early 20th century. Latinos also have an important advantage which supports the idea of starting a separate party: They still tend to be geographically concentrated in such states as California, Florida and Texas which allows them to focus their efforts, like the Populist party did in the 1890s.

Another relevant historical example is the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). Fifty years ago Fannie Lou Hamer appealed to the conscience of the Democratic Party, asking for the Democratic National Committee’s credential committee to recognize their delegation in place of the all-white Democratic delegation from the state. The leadership came to a compromise and agreed to seat two members of the delegation, but the white delegation walked off and wouldn’t accept the compromise. Nevertheless, the example set by the MFDP would have a clear impact on the Democratic Party in the South going forward. Despite the prospect of losing white support in the South, the Democratic Party supported civil rights legislation and gained the support of a majority of black voters.

An ethnic party did arise in the United States in the late 1960s as the Chicano Movement organized and called for a third party to focus on self-determination for Mexican-Americans. The main focus of organizers was in Texas, where La Raza Unida party won seats on city councils, school boards, and even ran a candidate for governor in 1972 and 1978. However, the party’s support declined as party activism slowed in the late 1970s.

Hispanic Americans are in a better political position today than either the MFDP was five decades ago or even La Raza Unida was in the ‘70s. In terms of representation, there is the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the 113th Congress has a record number of Latino elected officials, with 35 representatives and three senators. Most of these representatives are Democrats, and the immigration issue has been a high priority, as evidenced by the scathing criticism recently lobbed at the president by Representatives Raul Grijalva (Ariz.) and Luis Gutierrez (Ill.). Organizations like the National Council of La Raza, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and a variety of pro-immigration organizations have lobbied for immigration reform and deportation relief. How long will it be before such groups grow exasperated with the Democrats’ failure to move these issues forward?
A Latino party might even help solve the biggest obstacle to greater political clout—boosting turnout. At the time of the last midterm election, data from the Pew Research Center shows, Latinos chalked up a sharp increase in the number of eligible voters, while the number of actual voters is increasing more slowly. Also, as Pew notes, “even among eligible voters, Latino participation rates have lagged behind that of other groups in recent elections.” For example, 31.2 percent of Latino eligible voters said they voted in 2010, compared with nearly half of white eligible voters and 44 percent of black eligible voters. An independent Latino Party or a cohesive Latino bloc within an existing party that focused on the issues most important to Latinos could spur increased participation—and thus more political clout.

The smartest approach in the short run might be for Latinos to work within the existing party system, even as they continue to organize and swell their ranks within the electorate. In the long-term—especially if Democrats and Republicans continue to disappoint—they will need to assess their potential for working together as a voting bloc and whether this could lead to support for a party. Is this a long shot? Yes, but it’s better than sitting on the sidelines or waiting for others to act. How long will it be before Hispanic-Americans’ patience runs out?

Terri E. Givens is associate professor in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Legislating Equality: The Politics of Antidiscrimination Policy in Europe, with Rhonda Evans Case. Her website can be found at and she is on twitter @TerriGivens.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Muslim integration in Europe

The Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog is hosting series of blogs this week on Muslim integration in Europe, starting with a post by Terri Givens and Pete Mohanty of the University of Texas at Austin:

A left-right divide in European attitudes toward immigrants

Friday, September 19, 2014

Obama's delay continues to impact party politics, election in Sweden raises concerns on immigration

Fallout over President Obama's decision to delay taking executive action on immigration continues...

The response from the Hispanic Caucus tries to address the concerns of activists who are unhappy with the Democratic party:
Protesters gather at Democratic Party headquarters, call for immigration reform

Meanwhile the number of Central American's crossing the border has dropped dramatically:

In Europe, the success of Sweden's anti-immigrant party has raised concerns about the immigration issue:

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Obama delays action on immigration/deportations until after midterms

The big news for this weeks is President Obama's decision to delay taking action on immigration/deportations, despite pressure from immigrant advocates. Here's a range of coverage from the media beginning with an analysis from BuzzFeed:

Inside President Obama’s Decision To Delay Immigration Actions

Ints Kalnins / Reuters

Obama Delays Immigration Action, Yielding to Democratic Concerns
From the New York Times: “Because of the Republicans’ extreme politicization of this issue, the president believes it would be harmful to the policy itself and to the long-term prospects for comprehensive immigration reform to announce administrative action before the elections,” a White House official said. “Because he wants to do this in a way that’s sustainable, the president will take action on immigration before the end of the year.”

Protesters outside the White House last month. President Obama had promised to issue broad directives to overhaul the immigration system by summer’s end.

More in-depth analysis from the New York Times:
Political Shift Stalls Efforts to Overhaul Immigration

NBC news had an exclusive interview with President Obama on today's Meet the Press:

Exclusive: Obama Blames Border Crisis for Immigration Reform Delay

Democrats criticize Obama on immigration-order delay

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Politics of Immigration: House Manages to pass bills, upcoming elections in focus

Lots of analysis this week about the House GOP's actions on immigration, the first a bill that focused on deportations and a funding bill that doesn't come close to the President's request. The GOP is clearly concerned about taking action on immigration before the midterm elections, but the bills passed are of concern to those who want to reach out to Latino voters.

HR 5230 and HR 5272: Making a Bad Situation Worse and What It Means for November and Beyond

Voices: GOP won't face immigration backlash in November

Republican Rep. Steve King was confronted Monday night at his own fundraiser by an undocumented immigrant and activist.

Meanwhile the focus remains on the border, particularly here in Texas where legislators this week questioned Governor Perry's calling up of the National Guard and how that will be paid for, in the absence of federal funds.

Perry's Office Defends National Guard Funding

Gov. Rick Perry, flanked by State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, and Texas Adjutant General John Nichols, announces the deployment of National Guard troops to the Texas border on July 21, 2014.
photo by: Bob Daemmrich
The numbers of children crossing the border has dropped but concerns over housing remain, although plans to house families at military bases have been dropped and some shelters were closed.

U.S. to Close Three Emergency Shelters for Child Immigrants:Need for Sites Declines With Fewer Unaccompanied Minors Caught Crossing Mexican Border

Children at the Border - Interactive Map from the NY Times

Friday, July 25, 2014

Governor Perry deploys National Guard, Broader issues raised in Central America

Texas Governor Rick Perry announced this week that he would deploy 1000 National Guard troops to deal with the crisis at the Texas border. This raised a variety of issues (including the impact on Perry's potential run for president), particularly what kind of coordination there might be with the Border Patrol, if the Guard troops would have the authority to arrest people caught crossing the border, the impact on children crossing the border, etc...Fusion news raised a set of questions as well:
Major General Nichols of the Texas National Guard held a press briefing on Tuesday hoping to clarify the role of the Guard and raising the hope that many of the troops would volunteer for the duty:
The New York Times raised the issue of arrest power:

and "Government Executive" explored the options of action on the border:
Meanwhile President Obama is also considering deploying the National Guard at the border:

In Washington, DC, the Wilson Center's Latin American Program is doing a series of reports and panels on the issue of migrants from Central America. This included a panel with the foreign ministers from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras discussing issues of violence, transnational criminal organizations, and what can be done to deal with the underlying factors that are driving migrants to the U.S. [panel starts at 10 minute point]

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

The Immigration Policy Center has set up a resource page:

Unaccompanied Children: A Resource Page

I'll end today's blog post with an interesting editorial from the Baptist Standard:
Editorial: What are we going to do about all those children?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

New resources for understanding the crisis of unaccompanied minors on the border

Several outlets have developed background materials for understanding the factors that have led to the current crisis of refugees/migrants on the border from Central America.

The first link is a blog post from an immigration lawyer detailing the hurdles lawyers face in trying to represent families in detention centers:

The Artesia Experience

The Wilson Quarterly has put together an interactive set of maps and graphs which detail the underlying factors which lead people to leave places like Honduras and El Salvador:

Wilson Quarterly Interactive Map

Huff Post Latino Voices has also examined the U.S. influences that have helped lead to the current crisis:

Here's How The U.S. Sparked A Refugee Crisis On The Border, In 8 Simple Steps

Protests against the influx were set for this weekend, although turn-outs tended to be small, it is an illustration of the divides in public opinion created by the crisis:

tipo gritando.jpg

from the Austin American-Statesman:
Seeking Asylum in the United States: Fleeing gang brutality in El Salvador, Jose has made the dangerous trek to the United States to seek asylum. Casa Marianella in Austin has been his home for the past three months.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Focus on unaccompanied minors continues

The situation for unaccompanied minors at the border continues to create headlines. Protests are continuing and have spread to Arizona where many are calling for the children to be deported immediately, but this would be against current law, and due process.

Growing protests over where to shelter immigrant children hits Arizona

The Catholic church has already taken an active role in helping the children and families and Pope Francis has taken a strong position in support of the child migrants:

I recently learned of a new resource called TRAC immigration (h/t Karen Crawford):
"TRAC's Immigration Project is a unique new multi-year effort to systematically go after very detailed information from the government, check it for accuracy and completeness and then make it available in an understandable way to the American people, Congress, immigration groups and others."

They just posted data on unaccompanied children and how they fare in court:
The ACLU has also posted a commentary on children in immigration court and how they fare without a lawyer:
New Republic has posted an article that focuses on the TRAC data on children in immigration court:

Migrants and lawyers

A recent Gallup poll shows that concern about immigration has grown dramatically: