A Latino Peace Plan

By Miguel Perez

January 4, 2010 6 min read

On one side, we have those who argue that participating in the 2010 U.S. census is crucial to Latinos, that getting even undocumented immigrants counted is essential to empowering the Hispanic community. And they are right! Because census results are used to determine how political power and federal funds are distributed, those who are not counted will be doing a disservice to their own states and local communities.

But on the other side, you have those who argue that undocumented immigrants must use the census as a completely different empowering weapon. They are refusing to participate in the census unless Congress passes comprehensive reform legislation that grants legal status to undocumented immigrants. And they also are right! Because the survival of many incumbent Democrats may depend on the census results, a census boycott is Latinos' most powerful weapon against those politicians who claim to be their amigos but keep putting immigration reform on the back burner.

Both arguments make so much sense that the Hispanic immigrant community now stands divided over which course to take when the Census Bureau starts counting on April 1. And though the number of undocumented immigrants who actually boycott the census could be small, the boycott's opponents say that any undercount of Latinos, legal or illegal, would be very harmful to the Hispanic community. If the nation's 47 million Latinos — including some 8 million undocumented immigrants — are not counted properly, the size of the congressional delegations could be affected in several states with large Hispanic populations, they say. But the other side asks: What good is there in having more do-nothing politicians?

Both sides often agree that it is the politicians who should be punished for breaking their promises to the immigrant community. So if the census is too counterproductive as a weapon, why can't both sides agree to postpone the boycott until the midterm elections? Why can't we punish those politicians when it really hurts and without punishing ourselves?

I know. Undocumented immigrants can't vote. Their leverage is now, with the census. But what if those of us who do vote were to commit ourselves to punishing the politicians in November? Would the census boycotters allow pro-immigrant American voters speak on their behalf? And if the census boycotters were to back down, would the other side commit to joining a nationwide campaign against all lawmakers who fail to fight for comprehensive immigration reform this year?

Such a compromise would push back the deadline for Congress to act on immigration reform from April 1 to Nov. 4 and would punish only the politicians who stand in its way.

Not everyone will agree. There always will be some Latino leaders who are more faithful to their parties than they are to their communities, and they are the ones who would refuse to go along with an organized campaign to defeat members of their own parties. But among those Latino leaders who oppose the census boycott, there are also many independent activists who don't owe allegiance to either major political party. In fact, many of them would like nothing more than to punish some Democrats for continuing to benefit from Latino support without doing anything to earn it, as well as some Republicans for continuing to bash immigrants.

If census boycott leaders, such as the Rev. Miguel Rivera of New Jersey and Los Angeles activist Nativo Lopez, were to agree to turn around and encourage immigrants to participate in the census, would the outspoken opponents of the boycott agree to join Rivera and Lopez if immigration reform failed and some politicians needed to be punished?

Some pro-immigrant independent leaders, such as Juan Jose Gutierrez of Latino Movement USA, already have vowed to use the midterm elections to go after anti-immigrant politicians. Will others be willing to join him?

If a vast coalition of Latino and immigrant organizations could be created — with the single purpose of defeating every politician who opposes or even procrastinates on immigration reform — perhaps Rivera, Lopez and the undocumented immigrants who follow them could still be persuaded to participate in the census and organize another form of boycott — on Election Day.

For real bipartisan credibility, this coalition would have to pledge to encourage voter abstention in every race in which neither candidate is pro-immigrant. No more settling for the lesser of two evils, no more voting for the Democrat because Republicans are generally even worse on immigration. Let's look at each candidate, one by one.

If this coalition created an immigration report card for every Washington lawmaker and kept track of all of them during the next few months and if it vowed to keep it going — if necessary — until President Barack Obama runs for re-election in 2012, the census boycotters surely would be made an offer they couldn't refuse. Their boycott strategy for empowering immigrants would be used on a much bigger scale, at the ballot box.

The debate between those immigrants who favor the census boycott and those who oppose it has intensified during the past few months; both sides are becoming more entrenched in their positions and more critical of their opponents. But for the good of the community they claim to represent, the time has come for them to show some real leadership and mount a united front against all anti-immigrant politicians, including our phony amigos.

What I have offered here is a simple solution, a way out of this dilemma, a peace plan to move the Latino immigrant community forward. Any takers?

To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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