Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
Latinos have been mobilizing against Donald Trump since he launched his presidential campaign by smearing Mexicans with racist attacks. But his about-face on DACA, the program allowing 790,000 visa-less youths to attend school and work here, “cuts to the bone” and may push Latinos to reject the Republican Party for years to come.
The long-term consequences of Trump’s DACA move are as yet unknown. But there is a strong precedent that suggests Trump has crossed a line and the GOP is poised to lose Latino voters, the nation’s fastest-growing population, which will help push the party from power. That precedent is California’s Proposition 187, a 1994 law that never took effect, but which barred visa-less immigrants from receiving state welfare benefits. The GOP-backed law energized non-whites to push the GOP into political exile in the nation’s most populous state.
“What happened to California in the mid-1990s is happening across the country now,” said Matt A. Barreto, professor of Chicano Studies and Political Science at UCLA and co-founder of Latino Decisions, a national polling firm. “In 1994, Proposition 187 and [Gov.] Pete Wilson marked a historic turning point in California politics. It effectively brought the end of Republican competitiveness by energizing and mobilizing 1 million new Latino voters against the GOP. It wasn’t just Latinos, but record numbers of Asian American voters entered the political system in the late 1990s and early 2000s and registered and voted as Democrats. So we see a lot of parallels there.”
“It will likely energize Latino opposition to anything or anyone associated with President Trump in the 2018 elections. In this sense it is similar to the California experience,” said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, the country’s largest and oldest non-partisan Latino voter organization. “Along with the pardon of racist former Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio last week, repealing DACA inflicts tangible harm to the Latino community.”
Both Barreto and Gonzalez said Trump’s DACA action has crossed a new line.
“While Trump has espoused positions reviled by the vast majority of U.S. Latinos (deporting millions of immigrants, building a border wall funded by Mexico, outlawing sanctuary cities, canceling NAFTA, taxing remittances, repealing Obamacare) none have been fully carried out due to congressional, legal and/or public opposition,” Gonzalez said in an email. “Repealing DACA cuts to the bone.”
“Trump is no longer making offensive statements, he is now messing with people’s lives and this will lead to further anger and mobilization among Latino voters in 2018 and 2020,” Barreto said.
Messing with people’s lives, as Barreto said, may just be the start. Under the Obama administration, visa-less youths registered with the government to seek protection under DACA. Now those who registered fear their personal information could be used by immigration authorities to track them down, detain them and hasten their deportation.
As Leon Fresco, an immigration attorney who represents DACA recipients told the Daily Beast, immigration authorities may not be prioritizing deporting these youths, but they could access their information if they encountered them—such as being arrested at protests.
“The key is doing everything you can to avoid interactions with the police,” he said. “That’s pretty much all you can do at this point.”
Trump and DACA
Days after Trump’s inauguration, the president said he was looking at DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, with a “big heart.” On Tuesday, he announced he was winding down DACA in six months, which in turn, he said would pressure Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
“As I’ve said before, we will resolve the DACA issue with heart and compassion, but through the lawful democratic process,” Trump’s statement read. He later told a White House press pool, “I have a great heart for these folks we’re talking about. A great love for them, and people think in terms of children but they’re really young adults. I have a love for these people and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them.”
Latino leaders find nothing reassuring in Trump’s words or actions. Ending DACA and kicking immigration reform to a Congress that has not passed any major legislation this year isn’t mere politics, it’s traumatizing millions by playing with their lives. (Political handicappers like FiveThirtyEight.com said comprehensive immigration reform has thin odds of passage.)
Trump’s DACA action was not unexpected. It was immediately met with coast-to-coast protests, featuring statements from so-called Dreamers, the youthful immigrants living under a renewed shadow of family separation and deportation.
“As for people who want to deport me, my family and friends, I tell you this: the U.S./El Norte has and will always belong to people of color, immigrants, natives and anyone that wants to come, or is already here,” said New Jersey’s Li Adorno, before being arrested Tuesday in midtown Manhattan in front of Trump Tower. “We will fight until we win permanent protection, dignity and respect for all immigrants in this country.”
Latinos have been mobilizing against Trump since he launched his campaign with racist attacks, Barreto said. “They protested his appearance on Saturday Night Live. They protested his remarks about Judge Curiel [who heard the Trump University lawsuit]. They protested his inauguration and his sanctuary city ban. Now eight months into his presidency, Latinos have ramped up their protest and mobilization against Trump’s comments on Charlottesville, his pardon of convicted racist Joe Arpaio, and now his ending of DACA.”
The Latino electorate has become more engaged in recent years and that has resulted in defeating Republicans and diluting their strength in once-red states, Barreto said.
“2010 was also a midterm election and that year Sharron Angle attacked Latinos and Dreamers, and Latinos in Nevada mobilized in record numbers to turnout in support of Senator Harry Reid who championed the DREAM Act in 2010,” he said. “You see it in Arizona moving from solidly Republican to a battleground state as Latinos there have mobilized against SB 1070 and Joe Arpaio. You are starting to see it in Texas.”
Political scientists who documented how Prop. 187 drove the GOP into exile in California, a state where they shared power with Democrats a generation ago but now face a blue super-majority, pointed to a rising Latino electorate long before Trump.
“What happened here 20 years ago in many ways is a prologue for what’s happening nationwide, so it’s a really interesting path,” Gary Segura, a Stanford University political science professor told the California Report in 2014, when discussing the law’s impact. “It’s interesting to find people not learn from their mistakes.”
That failure to learn was the Republican National Committee’s analysis of the 2012 presidential election where Mitt Romney lost to President Obama. The RNC’s postmortem said, “If Hispanics think that we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies,” and called for major immigration reform. That was before Trump.
The open question is whether Trump’s attack on DACA will drive the nation’s 10 million unregistered but eligible Latino voters to the polls in 2018 and 2020. Gonzalez, who leads the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, said it will be these new voters—not Latino Republicans who voted for Trump out of party loyalty—who are likely to reject Republican candidates associated with the president or his agenda.
“Latinos are already heavily Democrat, by two or three to one depending on the state,” he said. “Moreover, the vast majority of Latino Republicans, though opposed to Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-Latino policies, voted for him anyway in 2016 out of partisan loyalty. The shift in Latino partisanship will not be through Latino Republicans switching but through new and occasional Latino voters disproportionately voting for Democrats in 2018 and 2020.”
When Prop. 187 passed in California in 1994, the Los Angeles Times quoted many Latino voters who said they hoped the law would be “the kick in the pants we Latinos needed” to start voting. That catalyst was over denying state social welfare benefits. Trump is now ending a law that keeps immigrants’ adult children in America and passing the buck to the Congress to reverse that. As Gonzalez said, repealing DACA “cuts to the bone.”
Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).