In spite of the anti-immigrant climate that has been sweeping the nation, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll says 60 percent of Americans are still in favor of a legalization plan for law-abiding illegal immigrants. Other polls say two Republican presidential candidates are surging, and they happen to be the only ones who have shown some compassion for the people who already pick our crops, mow our lawns and wash our cars and dishes. And yet another poll says immigration has become a much more important issue to Latino voters.
This could become the ultimate issue that determines who will be our next president. The winner, however, will not be chosen by those who bash immigrants but by those who are tired of xenophobic rhetoric.
The immigration pendulum has swung so far to the right that now it has no choice but to swing left.
For several years, pollsters told us immigration was not a significant issue to Latino voters. They said there were other issues Latinos found far more important. It was hard to believe, but that's what they said.
However, perhaps because most Latinos recently have felt the often racist sting of the anti-immigrant movement, one poll has found that 79 percent of Hispanic voters now say immigration is a very important issue in the presidential race, up from 63 percent in June 2004.
According to the same survey, by the Pew Hispanic Center, the support Republicans had gained in the past few years among Hispanic voters now has gone back to the Democrats. It found that 57 percent of Latinos align themselves with Democrats and 23 percent favor Republicans — a 34-point gap that has not been seen since the late 1990s.
Sunday night, most of the Republican candidates who originally had refused to participate in a Spanish-language TV debate were finally on Univision — trying to win back the voters they have been alienating with their anti-immigrant rhetoric for several months.
Is the pendulum making an about-face? With 18 million potential Latino voters going to the polls next year, many of whom happen to be positioned in key Electoral College states that could swing an election, Latinos can decide who will be the next president.
Without the support of at least 30 percent of Latinos, no candidate can make it to the White House. And without some compassion for illegal immigrants, no candidate can win that kind of support from Latinos.
Luckily for Republicans, the two candidates who are now surging in the polls — Sen. John McCain and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — are the ones who still could win a significant portion of the Hispanic vote. Perhaps even Rudy Giuliani could win enough Latino votes to become president — but only if he comes to his senses and stops pretending that he is an immigration hawk. The rest of them have no chance to win the Hispanic vote or the race for president.
And with Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., flip-flopping and turning against granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., failing to give a clear explanation of his position on that issue, Democrats are not doing too well, either.
Most of the Republican candidates have tried to out-tough one another regarding immigration. But the Democrats — instead of tackling Republicans head-on and exposing their often destructive, divisive and downright racist attitudes — have tried to play down this issue.
Instead of showing how Latinos have been used as guinea pigs to score points for Republicans on the immigration issue and speaking out in defense of the millions of people who live among us — undocumented but filling many jobs that keep our economy going — the Democrats rather would duck than fight. They still are hoping to win the Hispanic vote by default.
Democrats figure Latinos will have no other choice but to vote for them. And for that reason, they figure they have no need to be strong advocates for Latino issues right now. Why should they alienate the anti-immigrant zealots when they don't have to? Republicans have done such a good job of alienating Latino voters that Democrats figure they don't have to do anything — nada!
But with the immigration pendulum changing direction and compassionate GOP candidates surging in the polls, Democrats could end up taking the Latino vote for granted — just enough to lose the race for president.
Bottom line: If Latinos vote in a significant bloc, they will determine who will be the next American president. And candidates who flip-flop on immigration, bash illegal immigrants or hope to win by default will not make it to the White House.
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.