AP NEWS

Diane Mufson: American Latinos have climbed the political wall

January 10, 2019

In some ways, nothing has changed. Millions of Americans are scared to death of immigrants. We’ve been afraid of newcomers, who aren’t “exactly like us,” since our country’s founding.

We’ve now decided that immigrants from south of our border are our major problem. Yet, we don’t have a realistic plan to logically and legally address this issue.

Congress, who must deal with the immigration quagmire, has a new feature: 43 people who identify as Hispanic or Latino/a took their seats in Congress this January. They aren’t coming over the border wall; they have climbed the American political wall.

A few of the newly elected Latino representatives have interesting backgrounds. The great-grandmother of former naval officer Gil Cisneros, D-California, was born in Los Angeles when it was still part of Mexico. Mike Levin, an environmental lawyer and a California Democrat, notes that his maternal grandparents moved from Mexico to Los Angeles as children. Obviously, ethnicity is not predictable by surname.

Anthony Gonzalez, a former Ohio State football standout, whose grandmother left Cuba in 1960, is the only recently elected Republican Latino. His Ohio district is reported as only 2 percent Latino, indicating that he is viewed as Republican mainstream.

The newly elected Latinos want comprehensive immigration reform as a priority. Most Democrats and some Republicans agree that it is needed to stabilize the country and understand that President Trump’s “great big beautiful border wall” is not the answer.

This does not mean that anyone from any country can decide that it is time for them and their family to move to the United States. Immigration needs a rational approach with clear guidelines; this is difficult to develop because immigration is an emotional issue for many. Actually, the U.S. has an immigration procedure in effect. I recently talked with a young man from Peru who wanted to move to the United States, where his mother lived. His immigration process, involving many interviews and investigations, took eight years.

The approximately 800,000 DACA young people, who are now mostly in their late teens to upper 20s and were brought here illegally by their parents as infants or young children, should not have to be sent back to a country they never knew and where they don’t speak the language. There’s general agreement on that subject, but in the politics of building a big wall, President Trump sees these young people as bargaining chips, not flesh and blood.

Our immigration flow has been drastically limited in the past two years, and while many are pleased, others are worried for the future. The U.S., like some other well-developed nations, is aging. Our average age is 38, while in places like Saudi Arabia and Mexico it is 28. We will have a “youth deficit” in our future work force.

Approximately 57 out of 330 million people living in the U.S. identify as Hispanic or Latino/a. Some believe that with increased immigration rates from this group, the character of the country will change. In some ways that is true already. Miami is certainly not the stagnant Miami I knew as a child. The immigrant Cubans made it a thriving economy. Every immigrant group that has landed on our shores, including the Europeans, Asians, Africans and others, has left indelible marks and changed the character of our great nation.

Our Congress will continue to be interesting and it, too, will change as it welcomes to its ranks more American Latinos who have climbed the political wall.

Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. Her email is dwmufson@comcast.net.

AP RADIO
Update hourly