Mexico News & Analysis: Nov 5-11, 2012

1 - LATINOS, ELECTIONS AND IMMIGRATION REFORM
2 - MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION CALLS "DRUG WAR" INTO QUESTION

1 - LATINOS, ELECTIONS, AND IMMIGRATION REFORM

175 Some Republicans are worried.  Only 27% of Latino voters supported Mitt Romney's presidential candidacy, and that number includes all the wealthy and historically Republican Cuban-Americans in southern Florida and New Jersey. Latinos accounted for 10% of presidential ballots and are the fastest growing segment of the electorate, leaving Republicans scratching their heads over their newly recognized "demographic problem."  Suddenly, the party of "self-deportation," increased border security, and overt racism is trying to "reposition."  Even right wing acolyte Sean Hannity of Fox News has "evolved" on immigration reform - only two days after the stinging national defeat.  Republicans and Democrats alike are rushing to see who can roll out the welcome mat for 12 million undocumented workers living in the shadows, though always with their own political fortunes in mind.

Within hours of the election, the "demographic problem" captured the attention of commentators and party hacks across the spectrum, but the mainstream analysis of this phenomenon is wrong on two accounts. First, the immigrant rights movement didn't suddenly become a force with Romney's election defeat, nor as a result of Obama's political machine.  In 2006, immigrants organized the largest public demonstrations in the history of this country. About 12 million people took to the streets protesting the draconian Sensenbrenner Bill that would have made undocumented status a felony. In 2009, a small but growing group of DREAMers began to come out of the shadows. Risking deportation to countries they hadn't known since they were small children, the DREAMers put a human face on undocumented status. This courageous group of youth deserves front row seats at the negotiating table, if comprehensive immigration reform is truly on the agenda. Their moral authority made this issue a subject of dinner table conversations, and a bunch of "Johnny-come-lately" politicians interested only in their own political hides should not be allowed to hijack it.

 

Second, we have yet to hear from many Republicans on immigration reform, particularly the Tea Partiers who rely on the historic Republican constituency of rural, evangelical, white voters. Already some are calling the demographic problem a myth, and accounting for Romney's loss by highlighting Obama's "magical" turnout machine. These are the hard core racists who refuse to acknowledge the US is rapidly moving toward a white minority country. But clearer Republican heads are also focused on a serious short term problem. A path to legalization and voting status for 12 million undocumented workers would change the electoral map in significant ways. Florida, Colorado and Nevada would firmly enter the Democratic column, while Georgia, Arizona and Texas (yes, even Texas) would likely enter the tossup column. This could spell disaster for Republicans, particularly in national and state-wide elections, unless the party of big oil, finance and the obscenely wealthy can reposition as something else. This is likely a generational project, if undertaken at all.  Meanwhile, cynical Democrats can take Latinos for granted, the same way they take the Left for granted.

 

So where do we go from here on immigrant rights? Clearly there is an historic opening, though one fraught with potential for divide and conquer tactics, halfway reforms, and empty political posturing. Republicans might try to limit paths to legal status: to immigrants with certain income or educational levels, or including military service as a prerequisite, or allowing work permits without voting rights, or citizenship benefits for immigrants residing in this country far an arbitrary number of years. And there still will be regions that remain anti-immigrant and institutionally racist to the core - think Arizona's Sherriff Joe Arpaio or Rep. Steve King (R-IA), he of "comparing immigrants to dogs" fame. Unfortunately, Democrats are likely to sign onto anything Republicans support. Remember, it was the Democrats who failed to keep promises of comprehensive immigration reform when they held the Presidency and both houses of Congress from 2008 to 2010. The Democratic Party has never taken the lead on this issue, except when it benefits them electorally, and there are still many Democratic Congressmen in anti-immigrant districts.

 

Opportunities for genuine, comprehensive immigration reform exist - probably the best chance since the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). But it will require determined and politically astute leadership, something Latinos trying to climb the institutional political ladder have been sorely lacking. We run the risk of figures like Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Governor Susana Martinez (R-NM) cynically staking out political territory by putting a brown face on the white Republican Party, at the expense of genuine reform. Even some of the DREAMers may not be immune. A few, and hopefully only a few, will be happy with their newly won paths to legal papers, while forgetting about the 10 million others who still lack legal rights. It wouldn't be the first time a group of immigrants won rights only to quickly forget the rest of their brothers and sisters. Most of the DREAMers in Chicago are too politicized and committed to follow this self-centered path, but the US political class has proven adroit at divide and conquer in the past. For example, the IRCA had a cutoff date, and many of those who got under the wire, mostly Mexicans, quickly abandoned the struggle for those left behind, mostly Central Americans.

 

The IRCA included four provisions: increased border security, date-limited amnesty for long term residents and some farmworkers, employer sanctions for hiring undocumented workers, and limited increased legal paths for immigration. The logic was clear: seal the border, close off access to the job market, and then deal with the undocumented population already living here.  By these criteria, the IRCA failed miserably. Employer sanctions quickly fell by the wayside as the State was unwilling to sanction the capitalist class for illegal hires. About 3 million immigrants won amnesty, which reduced undocumented immigration for only three years while dramatically increasing legal immigration by family members of new green card holders. It also divided a vibrant immigrant rights movement by leaving shorter term residents out of the equation. The Border Patrol more than tripled in size along with comparable budget increases and the feds spent billions on a 16-foot-high wall and detection technology. Rather than inhibiting undocumented immigration (the numbers actually increased every year from 1989 to 2006), the measures dramatically increased the number of deaths as border crossers moved to ever more remote sections of the border.

 

Comprehensive reform must start from the fact that Latin American immigration is a long-term phenomenon, controlled by economics and not the Border Patrol. Given this reality, cut-off dates for legalization of undocumented workers is Pollyanna thinking. Comprehensive reform should include expanded visa opportunities for working class immigrants and a rolling application date for undocumented workers, perhaps after they have been in the US for a year or two. Any reform measure has to include voting rights and the right to work, attend school, and receive federal and state social benefits. After all, undocumented immigrants pay a higher proportion of their incomes in taxes than the general public.

 

The next six months could prove critical. With Republicans feeling the sting of electoral defeat and Obama announcing immigration reform as a priority, the table is set.  Immigrants need to be at the table, with their political influence underlined by mass demonstrations for genuine, comprehensive immigration reform.

 

2 - MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION CALLS "DRUG WAR" INTO QUESTION

When voters in Colorado and Washington state voted to legalize marijuana last week, the entire logic of Mexico's "drug war" was called into question. Already politicians across the spectrum are wondering why 60,000 Mexicans had to die over the past six years in a battle to stop illegal drugs from entering the world's largest and most lucrative market north of the border. Mexico spends billions of dollars each year confronting drug cartels, burning marijuana fields in remote places, and mobilizing increasingly unpopular security forces. Luis Videgaray, perhaps the most influential political hack in the incoming administration of Enrique Pena Nieto, put it in clear terms: "Obviously, we can't handle a product that is illegal in Mexico, trying to keep its transfer to the US, when in the US, at least part of the US, it now has a different status." Legalization "changes the rules of the game in relationship with the US," proclaimed Videgaray. No doubt drugs will be on the agenda when Pena Nieto visits Washington on November 27, only days before his December 1 inauguration. The "drug war" will likely become a new negotiating point favoring Mexico, as the two countries develop their bilateral agendas. Pena Nieto's PRI, long suspected of close ties to cartels, may use the legalization votes as a way to justify a negotiated settlement with cartels, behind closed doors of course, that reduces violence and kidnapping in Mexico while leaving the lucrative international narcotics market largely alone. Even if marijuana is legalized across the US, the cartels would likely lose only a small percentage of their income, and in fact, might be well positioned to enter the legal market with high quality produce. We may even see a movement to decriminalize drugs throughout Latin America, which would move the law enforcement struggle and its accompanying deaths and billion dollar budgets into the hands of US authorities.

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