About Me

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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kansas Needs Illegal Immigrants

Kansas City Star (Opinion) by Yael Abouhalkah: Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and others like to pontificate about the evils of illegal immigration.

But it turns out these politicians are missing a key point: Kansas needs illegal immigrants.

Specifically, the state’s dairies and feedlots are begging Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman to make it possible for them to hire illegal immigrants.

Rodman says he is seeking a federal waiver from the Department of Homeland Security to make that possible.

Ah, the irony.

In a state where top elected officials seem bent on making illegal immigrants into evil people, the real world is saying something else: We don’t have enough workers to do the jobs that produce large profits for agricultural entities in Kansas. So we need the ability to hire dependable illegal immigrants to do some of those jobs.

Illegal immigrants often do the jobs that other people won’t. It appears some Kansas businesses realize that and are willing to forget all that hoopla about the supposed evils of these people and give them a job. It’s all about making money, and illegal immigrants will help them do just that.

Here’s a quotation you know just grates on Kobach and others in the anti-illegal immigration movement:

“I need a waiver,” Rodman told a reporter. “It would be good for Kansas agriculture.”

Read more here: http://voices.kansascity.com/entries/kansas-needs-illegal-immigrants/#storylink=cpy

Monday, January 30, 2012

Miami's Cuban Vote Shifting, But Still Strongly Republican

Los Angeles Times: Frank Verano and Mirna Montes stand out among the Cuban patrons at Versailles Bakery in Little Havana. They're decades younger than many of the customers and, perhaps as a result, they're also more liberal.

Verano voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and Montes says she'll vote for him as soon as she becomes a citizen. "Your mother wanted to kill you," Montes said, teasing Verano, a close friend, about his 2008 vote. His mother, like many in the Cuban American community, is a devoted Republican.

For decades, Democrats have salivated over the powerful Cuban voting bloc in Miami-Dade County, hoping the children and grandchildren of immigrants who came in the 1960s would be more progressive than their parents.

In 2008, it looked like the vote might finally break for the Democrats. Obama, buoyed by independent voters like Verano, narrowly won the 18th Congressional District, which has been represented by a Cuban American Republican since 1989.

But the momentum has shifted since 2008, and many Cuban Americans who voted for Obama say they're disillusioned and may not support him in 2012. Verano says voting for Obama was a "mistake" and that this time he'll vote for Ron Paul or not at all.

"Obama had at least a chance to make some inroads for the Democrats about younger Cuban voters," said Dario Moreno, a professor at Florida International University. "But the persistence of the bad economy has hurt him. If his presidency had been more successful, those Cuban American young people who voted for him in 2008 would have stuck with him."

The Cuban vote in Florida has always been important. The state has 1.2 million residents of Cuban descent, according to census data, and many are registered Republicans.

In Miami-Dade, the state's most populous county, 74% of registered Republicans are Latino. That's why every election year, candidates come to the Versailles Restaurant to give an anti-Fidel Castro speech and sip coffee, and then head perhaps to the Freedom Tower, where Cuban immigrants were processed, to extol freedom.

Appealing to Republican Cuban Americans is usually easy — candidates just need to say they want to do away with Castro and keep or strengthen the embargo on Cuba, and maybe allude to using force to displace the regime. (Mitt Romney confused this in 2008 when he used the phrase "Patria o muerte, venceremos," in a speech in Little Havana, which means "Fatherland or death, we will prevail" and is associated with Castro.)

The Republican affiliation of Cubans stems from a distrust of President Kennedy over the failed Bay of Pigs invasion; an affinity for the strong anti-communist stance adopted by previous Republican presidents; and conservative Roman Catholic values often shared with conservative politicians. Democrats who are Cuban say many from the older generation accuse them of being communists for voting Democratic.

But that changed slightly in 2008, according to a study by Benjamin Bishin, a UC Riverside professor who conducted a poll of the Cuban electorate in Miami-Dade County.

Support for tightening the embargo against Cuba — a conservative position — fell by half between 2004 and 2008, he said. About 20% of Cuban Americans identified themselves as liberals in 2008, a 7-percentage-point increase from 2004. And 58% of Cubans said they identified with the Republican Party in 2008, down from 68% in 2004.

"The community is moderating very slowly," Bishin said.

That's in part because 50 years after the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban community is becoming more diverse. It's made up of more new, young immigrants from Cuba and of second- and third-generation Cuban Americans for whom economic issues trump arguments about an embargo or regime change, Bishin said.

Recent immigrants often think that the embargo hasn't worked. Younger generations "are more open" to voting for a different party, but often register as independents, Bishin said.

Democrats were poised to take advantage of those changes, putting up strong candidates in 2008 for seats in the 18th, 21st and 25th congressional districts. Republicans won all three, but Obama beat McCain in the 18th and was only 2 percentage points behind in the 21st.

This year, none of the districts is considered up for grabs, perhaps because the economy rather than immigration or Cuba policy is the top issue for Cuban American voters. That's why Marioska Bravo, 29, a Cuban American sales clerk in Miami, said she wouldn't vote for Obama again, even though she supported him in 2008.

"No," she said. "I don't like the economy. I don't like the situation."

Millie Herrera, vice president of the Miami-Dade Cuban American Democratic Club, said she was going to try to fight perceptions among Cuban Americans that the poor economy was Obama's fault.

"When the economy is bad, people tend to blame the administration in power," she said.

Over the long haul, the trend favors Democrats in Miami-Dade. Latino Republicans still hold an 80,000-voter edge, but Latino Democratic rolls have surged by 45% since 2006. Latino Republican registration gained 2% in the same period.

But Bishin says that it could be 15 years before the Cuban American Republican strongholds go Democratic.

"Those districts are up for grabs in the long run," he said, "but it looks like the electorate is only changing at a 4 or 5 points a cycle."

Until many of the solid Republicans stop voting because of death or disinterest, Democrats may just have to wait for people such as Mirna Montes, the woman at Versailles. She says she likes Obama but is not a citizen yet, so she cannot vote.

Joe Garcia ran for Congress as a Democrat in 2008 and 2010. He finished 8 percentage points behind opponent Mario Diaz-Balart in 2008, but 10 percentage points behind opponent David Rivera in 2010. He says residents told him they wanted to support him, but they either couldn't vote or didn't turn out.

"I won the Latin American vote and the younger Cuban American vote," he said. "But the reality is, these older Cuban Americans voted in huge numbers. These old guys are going to turn out to vote."

A Florida Bush Stays Silent, and to Many, That Says a Lot

New York Times: A steady stream of endorsements has been flowing to Mitt Romney, with his campaign promoting Republicans who are giving their blessing to his presidential candidacy. Yet on the eve of the Florida primary, he has been unable to land the biggest catch of all: Jeb Bush.

An unspoken question hovering over the Republican presidential race here is why Mr. Bush, the state’s popular former governor and heir to the nation’s aging political dynasty, has not added his voice to the party establishment’s support for Mr. Romney in his increasingly bitter duel with Newt Gingrich.

It has not been for a lack of effort by Mr. Romney, who has made phone calls, traded e-mails and met privately to try to win over Mr. Bush. The campaign was poised to make him a national co-chairman, a role Mr. Bush would have shared with Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, but several Republicans familiar with the offer say it was declined. As the center of Republican politics has once again returned to Florida, with Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich making final appeals to voters across the state on Sunday, Mr. Bush has been noticeably — and, several friends say, purposefully — absent from the conversation.

“If Dad got behind him, that would help shut the door,” Jeb Bush Jr., his youngest son, said in an interview, referring to Mr. Romney. “But that’s just not his style.”

Mr. Bush has made clear in television interviews and in conversations with friends that he is troubled by the sharpening tenor of the race, particularly on immigration. He voiced his concern directly to Mr. Romney, two people close to him said, urging him to moderate his oratory and views to avoid a collapse of support among Hispanic voters in the general election.

In his conversations about an endorsement, Mr. Bush also conveyed to Mr. Romney and his allies that his double-digit defeat in the South Carolina primary did not warrant an endorsement and he needed to “earn” it. Yet if weekend polls showing Mr. Romney with a double-digit lead offer an accurate picture of the race, an endorsement from Mr. Bush may be unnecessary.

The level of effort and intensity by the Romney campaign to court Mr. Bush suggests that his seal of approval was highly coveted not only for the Florida primary, but also in the quest to galvanize the party behind him to help swiftly lock down the Republican nomination. Mr. Romney also sought his aid trying to secure the support of Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who also has declined to endorse.

“Of course, everyone wants him to endorse,” said John D. Rood, a finance chairman for Mr. Romney in Florida, who was also ambassador to the Bahamas under President George W. Bush. “But I think Jeb looks at his endorsement as one where he wants the people of Florida to study the issues, work hard and make an educated decision.”

A series of false reports last weekend suggested that Mr. Bush was on the verge of endorsing Mr. Romney. The rumors, which some aides to Mr. Romney were initially promoting, agitated Mr. Bush, who was in China at the time and unable to quickly respond.

For the last year, as Republicans have pined for a wider field of presidential candidates, Mr. Bush’s name has topped the wish list. His low-key posture in the race has done little to cool speculation about the aspirations of Mr. Bush, 58, son of one president and brother of another.

If he is thinking of ever running for president himself — as many of his friends believe that he is — he also could have concluded that it was not in his interest to get involved and agitate conservatives in his party by going against Mr. Gingrich. He has often chosen not to become embroiled in primary races here in Florida, where he spends his time advocating an overhaul of the nation’s education system.

But his silence in the fight between Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich has been noticed by Republicans here. As the two candidates made appearances on Friday before Mr. Bush’s Hispanic Leadership Network, Mr. Bush was not in the audience. He turned up later that day in Washington for a private Oval Office meeting with his father and President Obama.

Former President George Bush has endorsed Mr. Romney. Former President George W. Bush has told friends he is following the race but has no plans to become involved. All three Bushes were at the Alfalfa Club dinner in Washington on Saturday night, when Mr. Obama joked that many people hoped Jeb Bush would run for president.

“I am not one of them,” Mr. Obama declared at the private dinner, one attendee said.

The Republican presidential campaign in Florida, which has erupted into a confrontation between the party’s establishment supporting Mr. Romney and conservative grass-roots activists backing Mr. Gingrich, is also infused with a subtext about Mr. Bush. At campaign rallies last week, when asked whom they planned to support, several voters said that they wished Mr. Bush were a candidate.

They are not alone.

When Laura Bush, the former first lady, visited Sarasota this month, she told an audience that Jeb Bush would make a “wonderful” president and that she and her husband wished he had declared his candidacy. “We wanted him to this time,” she said, according to an account in a local newspaper.

For his part, Jeb Bush has played down the likelihood of a presidential run. Some friends have suggested that a vice presidential candidacy would be his best path to the White House, given the resistance that may remain in the electorate after his brother’s presidency.

“Never say never,” Mr. Bush said in an interview with CNN, responding to a question about a future presidential bid. “But in all honesty, this was probably the right time for me, in terms of my age and just the opportunity that existed, but there are personal and family reasons that made that impossible.”

And even as establishment Republican began rallying behind Mr. Romney, Mr. Bush declined to tip his hand.

“I’ve already voted, I voted absentee,” he said in the television interview. “And thank God it’s a secret ballot.”

Marco Rubio Won't Be V.P.

New York Times (New York Times Magazine): Your parents came to Miami from Cuba in the 1950s. Your dad became a bartender, and your mom worked as a hotel maid, among other jobs. Was it always clear that you wouldn’t follow them into a service job?

The service industry is hard, honorable work, but early on my parents drove it into us that a job is what you do to make a living; a career is when you get paid to do something that you love. They had jobs so I could have a career.

Your official biography emphasized that your parents were political exiles from Castro’s regime. Last year it was reported that in fact they emigrated years before he took power. You said it was an innocent mistake. How did it happen?

All this stuff happened 15 years before I was born, so a lot of it is based on the oral history of the family that kind of recounts their view of their journey here.

Did anyone in your family ever actually say, “We had to escape Castro”?

Ultimately, look, that’s not the way it was discussed in our family or by many people in the exile community. It’s more about a loss of their home country, and the inability to go back to it or be part of it. That was a deep part of our upbringing, growing up in this community surrounded by people who had lost everything, who had been sent here as young children while their parents stayed behind.

After you became the first Cuban-American speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, in 2006, your mentor, Jeb Bush, presented you with a sword. What was that about?

Chang is a mythical conservative warrior. From time to time, if there’s a big issue going on, you’d see Jeb say, “I’m going to unleash Chang.” He gave me the sword of Chang.

From which mythology does this conservative warrior hail?

I think it’s a Jeb Bush creation.

In your 2010 Senate race, it came to light that you charged $100,000 on a Republican Party American Express card, almost $14,000 of which was for personal expenses. Since your big issue is financial responsibility, why didn’t you just use another card?

In hindsight, that’s exactly how I would have handled it. I think the problem was a lot of those expenditures were handled by travel agents, and sometimes the accounts got mixed up. The most important thing people need to understand is that the Republican Party never spent a penny on anything that wasn’t Republican Party-related.

Koch Industries, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are among your top career campaign contributors. What do you say to people who believe that they’re investing in you so that you’ll push to overhaul the tax code to their benefit?

People buy into my agenda. I don’t buy into anyone’s agenda. I tell people what I stand for, and the things I’ve stood for were the same at the very beginning, when none of those people were giving me money.

You are a football fanatic, and your wife, Jeanette, was once a Miami Dolphins cheerleader. Coincidence?

I don’t think she did it because I was a fanatic. Her sister was a cheerleader on the squad, and Jeanette decided to try out. She made it but only did it for a year, and we got married the next year. Cheerleaders don’t get paid a lot of money, but they do get two tickets a game. That was pretty good.

Last year, Bill O’Reilly declared that unless you turn it down, you will be the Republican vice-presidential nominee because you’re from Florida and you’re Hispanic. Does it bother you to be seen to be of value because of where you’re from and your ethnic background?

A lot of factors go into choosing a vice-presidential nominee. But by and large the most important qualification is that they’re qualified to be president, and I imagine that’s the process that Newt or Mitt or any of these other guys are going to go through to decide. So I’m flattered by it, and I think people mean it as a compliment.

Will you take it?

I’m not going to be the vice-presidential nominee. There are many reasons, but one of them is because I’m focused on my job in the United States Senate.

Would you bet me $10,000?

I don’t have $10,000 I can afford to lose right now.

Rubio: GOP Must Make Immigration a Priority

Associated Press (by Laura Wides-Munoz):Florida Senator Marco Rubio on Friday laid out his arguments for broad immigration reform and urged those in his party to jettison the harsh rhetoric, challenging both conservatives and those on the left to make the issue a priority.

The freshman lawmaker - who is on both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich's shortlist of vice presidential candidates - has given sweeping speeches on U.S. foreign policy and domestic policy. But Friday marked his first major speech directly on immigration. Rubio challenged Republicans to address the legal status of young illegal immigrants who were brought to the country as children and want to go to college or join the military.

"There is broad bipartisan support for the notion that we should figure out a way to accommodate them," Rubio said to a crowd of more than 600 at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa, just west of Miami. "I hope Republicans and conservatives take the lead in solving this."

Rubio added any such proposal must "not encourage illegal immigration in the future," and said current proposals go too far. Still, his speech at the Hispanic Leadership Network appeared to be a major step toward reaching those who oppose anything beyond tightening the nation's borders.

The speech comes days ahead of the Florida Republican primary. Latinos, who make up about 11 percent of GOP voters, are likely to play a significant role. Beyond Florida, Rubio is increasingly viewed by the GOP as essential to capturing Hispanic votes in the November presidential election.

Rubio's speech also seemed to be a response to those on the left seeking to paint Rubio as a traitor to Hispanics and immigrants.

Before his talk, the California-based nonprofit Presente and the Texas-based Somos Republicanos - "We are Republicans" - made their presence known. The groups, along with local labor and immigrant groups, flew a banner reading "Hey Marco, No somos Rubios" over the hotel. The message was a play on Rubio's last name, which means "blond" in Spanish. Presente co-founder Roberto Lovato said it was a reference to the rising GOP star's association with the mostly white tea party, which tends to oppose any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

The dark-haired Rubio referenced the plane, jokingly noting that he wasn't blond, either.

But he also added: "On the right and among conservatives, we must admit there are those among us who have used rhetoric that is harsh and intolerable and we must admit, myself included, that sometimes we've been to slow to condemn that language for what it is."

And he called out those on the left for trying to win Hispanic votes by creating "unrealistic and unreasonable expectation for Latinos across the country."

Rubio stopped short of calling for comprehensive immigration reform.

"How about everybody else? I don't have a magic answer for you," he said. "There is not political support for the notion of granting 11 million people citizenship or a path to citizenship. It's just not there. On the other side you can't deport 11 million people."

Rubio reiterated earlier statements that the issue of immigration is personal to him. He noted a report last fall that his parents were economic immigrants who came to the U.S. several years before the Cuban revolution, not exiles who fled Fidel Castro. They quickly came to oppose Castro and identified with the exile community.

"It was a blessing in disguise," he said, because it made him go back and learn about his parents and grandparents and their determination to leave a better future for their children.

"You find it in the faces of the men outside of Home Depot ... the women who work long and hard hours sometimes without documents," he said.

Speaking to a potential audience far beyond the mostly Hispanic crowd of 600, he added: "I ask you what if you were them? Let me tell you-if I was there, there are very few things I would not do. There is no fence high enough; there is no ocean wide enough that most of us would not cross to provide for them what they do not have."

That kind of language is likely to appeal to independent Hispanic voters and even some Democrats in swing states like Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico, who could help Republicans in a tight race against President Barack Obama.

Former Minnesota U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, co-founder of the center-right Hispanic Leadership Network, said he hoped the presidential candidates and every Republican running for office would sit down and watch Rubio's speech.

"He was able to articulate a vision of an issue that is complex but that we have to deal with," Coleman said.

Former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, another Cuban-American from Florida, also took the lead on immigration within the party "and he got a little battered," Coleman said.

But he said he believes Rubio, who rode the tails of the tea party to the U.S. Senate in 2010, may have a broad enough base to be more effective.

"He has commitment and support within the most active and vocal element of our party, like the tea party," he said.

Still, he likely didn't go far enough to satisfy several young immigrant activists who briefly interrupted him as he began his speech. They demanded to know why he has refused to support existing proposals for legalizing youth in the country illegally through the so-called Dream Act.

And in a sign of how much work Rubio may have cut out for him, the students were quickly booed by the crowd and ushered out by hotel security, despite Rubio's own pleas.

"I want them to stay," he shouted out. "They have the bravery and courage to raise their voices and a) I thank god I am in a country where they can do that. But b) I want them to hear what they have to say."

Republicans Clarify Their Anti-Immigrant Position at Last Nights Republican Debate

Journal.US reported that: Yesterdays Republican presidential debate made it quite clear to the viewers that not one Republican candidate has any interest in resolving the immense problems caused by the millions of undocumented immigrants. Not one recognized the benefits that these millions of people have brought to this country and to the economy. Not one mentions the Dream Act, let alone comprehensive immigration reform. Romney who is quick to throw out the fact that his father was a Mexican and that he is pro-immigrants yet, he says that “self deportation” is an option. What he means by “self deportation” is that if the government makes life intolerable for the undocumented immigrant, by not allowing them to work legally, not granting driver’s license and always making them look back as they walk, they will eventually, just leave. What a ridiculous and simplistic resolution for a very complicated problem; to make undocumented immigrants and their legal resident families suffer so that eventfully, maybe, they “self-deport.”

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum dittoed Mr. Romney's position by stating, "self-deportation is a "possible solution."

Texas congressman Ron Paul put in his 2 cents by saying that the US spends too much time "worrying about the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan," and should "use some of those resources on our own border."

But the debate really became interesting when Mr. Gingrich, who insisted the US cannot rationally deport millions of people, some who have lived here for decades was forced to defend his portrayal of Mr. Romney as "anti-immigrant."

"The idea that I'm anti-immigrant is repulsive," yelled Romney. "You can say we disagree on certain policies, but to say that enforcing the US law to protect our borders, to welcome people here legally, to expand legal immigration, as I approve, that that's somehow anti-immigrant is simply the kind of over-the-top rhetoric that has characterized American politics for too long." But no matter what he says, it’s difficult to forget that he recently said that if he became the president, he would veto the Dream Act.

But Gingrich is no better. His so called immigration reform is simply to permit “grandmothers and grandfathers’ who have lived here decades the right to live her, but they would not become U.S. citizens. He never mentioned the Dream Act or comprehensive immigration reform.

In fact, not one of them mentioned comprehensive immigration reform, the dream act or efforts at reducing deportation for non-criminal undocumented immigrants.

Following the debate it became apparent that not one republican candidate has any interest in the immigrant community. This will be their downfall in the November election.

The power of Latino voters will become apparent and should give Democrats the edge in the election. The 2010 Census revealed that during the past decade the Latino population has nearly doubled in Nevada, Virginia, and North Carolina. In Indiana and Ohio, there was a 60 percent or more increase.

Obama won all five of those states in 2008 and these same states are likely to be a decisive factor in the fall election.

“What the Census figures suggest is that the road to White House in 2012 may well go through the Hispanic community” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an advocacy group that favors allowing illegal immigrants to work toward U.S. citizenship.

Discussing Immigration, Rubio Shows His Star Power

National Journal (Article by Beth Reinhard): It took Marco Rubio just 26 minutes to do on Friday what none of the leading Republican presidential candidates have accomplished during months and months on the campaign trail.

Passionately and persuasively, Florida's junior senator made the conservative case for sweeping immigration reform and called on his party to take the lead on the issue. The Cuban-American on every Republican's short list for vice president also personally offered himself as a leader on immigration reform, although he offered few details. "I don't have a magic answer,''said Rubio, who until recently has avoided injecting himself into the sticky debate.

The speech to hundreds of people at the Hispanic Leadership Network conference was a testament to Rubio's star power and a subtle commentary on the limits of the Republican contenders, who have talked little about immigration beyond condemning undocumented workers for breaking the law and demanding stronger border security.

"Dividing people along the lines of immigration has proven to be rewarding to politicians on the left and the right,'' Rubio said. "So for those who come from the conservative movement, we must admit that there are those who among us who have used rhetoric that is harsh and intolerable, unexcusable, and we must admit--myself included--that some times we've been too slow to condemn that language for what it is.''

The negative tone has some Republicans worried that the party is alienating the fastest-growing slice of the electorate and handing President Obama a second term. As Rubio's onetime mentor, former Gov. Jeb Bush, who is co-chairing the conference, pointed out on CNN on Thursday night, "I don't think a party can aspire to be the majority party if it's the old white-guy party.''

With Florida's high-stakes primary just four days away, the conference offered a platform for Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich to court the influential Hispanic community. Wide support from the nearly three in four Republican voters in Miami-Dade who are Hispanic helped John McCain win the Florida primary in 2008 and could swing Tuesday's vote.

Rubio set himself apart from the 2012 field on a couple of policy points. Romney and Gingrich have suggested they might support a pathway to citizenship for children who have been brought to the U.S. illegally only if they enrolled in the military, but not for those who attend college. Rubio did not make that distinction when he talked about the Dream Act.

"I think there is broad bipartisan support for the notion that we should somehow figure out a way to accommodate them,'' he said. "I hope that we as Republicans and we as conservatives take the lead in solving this problem. It's not just the right thing to do, but it speaks to our hopes and dreams as a nation.''

Rubio also made it clear he does not favor deporting the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, although he didn't spell out how to deal with their undocumented status. Gingrich is the only major candidate who has advocated allowing some long-term illegal residents to stay in the U.S.

Overall, Rubio proved why he's one of the GOP's brightest stars in a speech laced with self-deprecating humor, emotional testimonials to the sacrifices of his immigrant parents, and even poetry by Emma Lazarus. He offered a powerful defense of the free-enterprise system and was masterful at diffusing potentially awkward moments. When a handful of young protesters who support the Dream Act interrupted his speech and were escorted out of the room, he praised them for raising the issue.

Rubio also addressed recent reports that he has inaccurately described his parents as "fleeing'' Fidel Castro, since they arrived before he took power in Cuba. "It created some difficult, you know, uncomfortable days,'' Rubio said, but added that the controversy "was a blessing in disguise'' because it motivated him to learn more about his parents' lives.

Rubio laid out a vision of a "functional'' guest-worker system, a better visa system, an electronic system for employees to verify legal status, and, yes, increased border security. He spoke of the realities of immigrant labor in the fields and on construction sites and of reaching a bipartisan consensus on the Dream Act.

"It was a landmark speech,'' said Republican consultant Carlos Curbelo, a Miami-Dade County school board member and a former adviser to Gov. Rick Perry on Hispanic issues. "We've needed one of our national leaders to stand up and say, 'Let's talk about this issue head on. Let's stop dividing the country.' ''

Rubio has been walking a careful line on immigration since his 2010 Senate campaign, seeking to welcome Hispanics into the GOP while also appeasing the tea party movement that helped him win election. As the leader of the Florida House, Rubio steered clear of proposals to crack down on illegal immigration, but as a U.S. Senate candidate, he adopted his party's hard line against "amnesty.''

In October, he retreated from his previous support for offering in-state college tuition rates to illegal immigrants. He has opposed the current form of the Dream Act and backed Arizona's controversial crackdown on illegal immigrants.

“We welcome Senator Rubio’s new tone and call for bipartisan action,'' said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, a leading proponent of comprehensive immigration reform. "But we’ll know he’s serious when he announces new policy positions and brings fellow Republican senators to the negotiating table with Democrats.''

Could Marco Rubio Solve Mitt Romney's Hispanic Problem?

New York Times (Times Magazine): A lot has changed since I interviewed Senator Marco Rubio of Florida on the morning of Jan. 17. That evening Newt Gingrich unleashed theatrical opprobrium upon John King, and Mitt Romney went from presumed nominee to bloodied establishment candidate. Rubio’s home state of Florida, which votes Jan. 31, has become, pick your metaphor — ground zero, Armageddon, The Last Exit To Somewheresville — for both candidates.

The young, dreamy-for-a-pol senator long vowed to withhold his endorsement. But Rubio has tipped his hand a few degrees. Earlier this week, he trumpeted Romney’s conservative bona fides and blasted the Gingrich campaign. So even though Rubio continues to blow off speculation he’ll be in the V.P. slot, he seems to be cementing a special friendship with Romney, who, as you’ll see in the following outtakes from my Talk column, will undoubtedly encounter some issues with Hispanic voters that Rubio could help sort out. Below, more from our original interview.

In debates, Mitt Romney tacked so hard to the right on immigration that some have said he cost himself the Hispanic vote — which he will need to take Florida in the general election. Can Romney win it back?

I’m not going to do the political analysis on immigration. I think ultimately whoever the Republican nominee is will become president and confront the reality that the status quo in our immigration system is not sustainable. We need a functional guest-worker program so that when there is the need for seasonal labor, that there’s a way for people to enter this country legally for a defined period of time. But we cannot just give citizenship to 9 million to 11 million human beings in this country without the proper documentation. It rewards people who have not done it the right way and serves as a magnet for people in the future to do the same thing. On the other hand it’s not reasonable to ask the United States government to help round up and deport nine million people.

During the last presidential election, Mitt Romney offended the Cuban-American community in Miami by saying onstage, “Patria o muerte, venceremos,” which was Fidel Castro’s signoff for many years.

Obviously someone helped prepare that speech and gave him bad advice. I don’t think anyone walked out of there thinking that somehow Mitt Romney was a supporter of Fidel Castro. I don’t think that’s going to be an issue for him.

In the same speech, he also referred to you as “Mario Rubio.”

I think Mario is much more common than Marco. He’s not the first or the last one to do that.

There has been a great deal of consternation among Hispanics that you don’t support the Dream Act, which provides a path to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants. The conservative columnist Ruben Navarette wrote: “Marco Rubio is the Republican Party’s Superman. And the immigration issue, if not handled correctly, is his kryptonite.”

The Dream Act is the wrong way to do the right thing. There is support helping out these kids in this country who were brought here at a very young age illegally through no fault of their own, who have something to contribute to our country. But the Dream Act is not the right way to do it, because it leads to issues of chain migration and other things like that. Sure, 85 percent of the Hispanic/Latino voters support the Dream Act because to them the Dream Act is symbolic of an effort to help these kids who find themselves in this predicament. But the specific bill, the Dream Act, has things in it I don’t think can gain majority support.

On “Face the Nation” last July you said that unemployment has risen significantly under Obama, and the only way we could solve our budget crisis was by getting people back to work and contributing taxes. In December, unemployment was down to a two-year low of 8.5 percent. By the election, how low would that number have to be to demonstrate that Obama has actually succeeded by your measure?

I think what you’re looking for is long-term trends that show that there’s growing confidence and permanency in the economy. I’m not going to root against the economy. I’d much rather have unemployment go down than win elections. I think the fact that we’ve gone two years without a new stimulus package, without a new health care bill has been helpful to some extent in helping this happen, but part of it is just the resiliency of the American economy.

But you very clearly blamed the president for the poor shape of the economy. You seem unwilling to give him any credit at all if there’s an upswing.

Hold on a second. What I said is everyone needs to be judged by their record, and the record is clear. When his party controlled the Senate and the House, he could have passed any public policy he wanted, and what he asked for was the health care law and the stimulus package, and both of those have failed to turn our economy around. The public-policy decisions that president has made have actually slowed down this recovery. If you look at similar downturns in the American economy, the steeper the decline, the steeper the recovery. That has not been the case here, and in many ways the recovery has been stagnated by uncertainty in the tax code, by the rhetoric out of Washington, by the nastiness and the back and forth of the entire political culture.

Considering you once vowed to end partisan squabbling in the Florida House and recently said you’re not interested in playing the role of attack dog, I was surprised to see you on TV refer to the “Democrat Party.” You know Democrats consider it an epithet, right?

Why is it an epithet? I didn’t even know that.

It’s actually been considered derisive since at least 1940. I looked it up. You really had no idea it drives them crazy?

No, that’s silly. I don’t believe in partisanship for the sake of partisanship, but I think there are dramatic differences between the parties on key issues including the role of government. There’s nothing wrong with having an energetic debate about those issues.

Friday, January 27, 2012

GOP, Don't Blow It With Florida's Latinos

CNN (Opinion) by Ruben Navarrette (Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette, Jr., is a CNN.com contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist.):

On behalf of all those Latino voters who have figured out that the Obama administration is the most hostile to Latino immigrants of any administration in the last half century and who are looking for an alternative, let me say this to the Republican presidential candidates: "Bienvenidos to Florida! Now, behave yourselves."

Like the saying goes, for everything there is a season. And as far as the Republican hopefuls are concerned, for every primary state, there is a makeover. After campaigning in three states with infinitesimally small Latino populations -- the last of which, South Carolina, had red meat on the menu since it recently passed a tough anti-illegal immigration law -- the next state in the queue is Florida, where voters go to the polls on January 31 and where the Hispanic population is substantial.

According to the Census Bureau, the Hispanic population in Florida grew by an astonishing 57% in the last 10 years. Hispanics now account for 22.5% of Floridians, compared with 16.3% of the entire U.S. population.

But that's only half the story. Florida's Latino population was once made up almost entirely of conservative Cuban-Americans in South Florida, around Miami, who almost always vote Republican. But in a dramatic change, it now also contains a large number of liberal Puerto Ricans in central Florida, around Orlando, who are more likely to vote Democratic. Mix in large numbers of Nicaraguans, Mexicans and Brazilians and you have a spicy Latin stew that won't be easy to pander to with one message.

Or one issue. The estimated 10 million Latinos who are expected to cast ballots in November care about the same issues as other voters: jobs, the economy, health care, education. But with one major difference: Immigration tends to float to the top of the list when tensions flare, as they did last year when Arizona started a trend with a tough immigration law that all but requires the ethnic and racial profiling of Latinos.

In addition, Cuban-Americans, Puerto Ricans and Mexican-Americans all come to the immigration issue in different ways, and some are more fired up than others over the tendency of all politicians to exploit the issue for their benefit at the expense of Latino immigrants.

For Republicans, the good news is that President Obama has given them an opening. Not only did Obama break his 2008 campaign promise to make immigration reform a priority in his first term, he also broke the record for deportations. His administration roped local police into the enforcement of immigration law through the Secure Communities program, which requires police and sheriff departments to submit fingerprints to federal officials of anyone they arrest who they suspect is an illegal immigrant -- read Latino. Through this, the administration expelled more than 1.2 million illegal immigrants -- most of them Latino -- and, in the process, divided hundreds of thousands of families.

But the bad news is that Republicans -- in trying to pander to what their base wants, or rather what they think their base wants -- have made a mess of immigration to the point where many Latinos tell me they would rather vote for Obama and "Stick with the devil we know."

Generally speaking, when asked about immigration, Republicans come across as mean-spirited, ill-informed and narrow-minded. The presidential hopefuls have fallen into that trap.

Consider their dismal performance in Monday's debate in Tampa Bay, Florida, and how they addressed the question of what they would do about the Dream Act, a bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for students who go to college or join the military. According to polls, the legislation enjoys the support of more than three-fourths of Latinos.

Even so, both Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney have said they would veto the bill because they, wrongly, consider it a form of "amnesty." That would be something for nothing. The Dream Act offers something for something.

But, at the debate, perhaps in an attempt to curry favor with Latinos in Florida, Romney -- true to his reputation for flip-flopping -- tried to walk back from that declaration by saying he would sign a version of the Dream Act if it were only "focused on military service."

Newt Gingrich said essentially the same thing, insisting that he, too, backed the military component of the legislation, but opposed the part that "simply says everybody who goes to college is automatically waived for having broken the law."

The only thing that is "simple" is Gingrich's understanding of what it means to break the law. When a parent brings his child into the country illegally, the parent breaks the law. But the child doesn't. From that point forward, the child might be without legal status in the United States, but that is not the same as someone making a conscious decision to violate a statute and open himself up to the consequences.

When it comes to immigration, Republicans offer little more than silliness, sound bites and simple solutions. Do they really think that will help them with Latinos in Florida, let alone help whichever of them emerges a victor appeal to voters in the general election?

If so, here's a Spanish phrase they should become familiar with: "Buena suerte." Good luck.

Latinos on the Economy: Hard Hit but Hopeful

New York Times (by Julia Preston): Latinos have been especially hard hit by the economic downturn, with nearly four in 10 38 percent saying they have skipped meals because they did not have enough money for food, according to a national survey published on Thursday by the Pew Hispanic Center.

With Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, Republican candidates for the presidential nomination, duking it out in Florida for Latino votes, the Pew survey paints in the background to show why jobs and the economy, rather than immigration, are the leading issues for many Latinos.

Latinos nationally are keenly aware that they have fared worse than other groups, the Pew survey found. Yet they remain surprisingly optimistic that things will improve for them.

Nearly one-third of Latinos 28 percent say that as a result of plunging home values, their mortgages are higher than the current value of their homes, Pew found; that is double the rate of 14 percent found in a national poll conducted last March of homeowners who are underwater. And 7 percent of Latinos who do not own a home said they lost theirs to foreclosure in the past year; 5 percent of the general population that does not own a home reported facing a recent foreclosure in a survey conducted in May 2010.

About 37 percent of Latinos said they had trouble receiving or paying for medical care for their families.

More than half of the Latinos in the United States 52 percent are immigrants, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, based on census data. The economic pain is more severe among them than among native-born Latinos, with 43 percent of the immigrants surveyed saying they missed meals because they could not buy food.

Yet two-thirds of Latinos said they expected their finances to improve in the coming year, and about two-thirds expected their children to do better than they did, Pew found. In a Pew survey conducted last March, only 48 percent of the general public expected the next generation to have better lives.

About 11 percent of Floridas registered Republicans are Latinos, according to official figures from the Florida secretary of state. Floridas Latinos include many Cubans, who vote Republican more frequently than other Latinos and whose views may diverge from those of the Hispanic population as a whole.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail, Mr. Romney has taken a hard line on immigration, saying illegal immigrants should self-deport. Mr. Gingrich has said he also opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants, but he would give legal status to some who have lived in the country for many years and to illegal immigrant students who agreed to serve in the military. Latinos nationwide overwhelmingly support policies to give legal status to illegal immigrants, Pew has found. Mr. Romney is betting that the economic issues will be more urgent to Latinos in Florida, where the housing crisis has been especially deep and long-lasting.

The survey is based on telephone interviews from Nov. 9 to Dec. 7 of a national sample of 1,220 Latinos, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

VP Marco Rubio?: The Man in Demand

CNN: Will he or won't he? And would it matter?

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, considered a powerful Hispanic political player and rising star in his party, has consistently said no to having vice presidential aspirations. But still, the question keeps coming up.

Rubio, the popular Miami-born son of Cuban immigrants, has been seen by some inside Republican circles as a great "get" as a possible No. 2 on a hypothetical presidential ticket, and is already showing his power to influence the process.

Just this week he pushed back on former House Speaker Newt Gingrich after the Republican presidential candidate ran a Spanish language radio ad labeling former Gov. Mitt Romney as "the most anti-immigration candidate." Rubio called the commercial "inaccurate" and "inflammatory" and the Gingrich campaign pulled the ad.

Gingrich press secretary R.C. Hammond said the ad was taken down as part of a scheduled "rotation time for the ads," not as a result of complaints from Rubio.

"This kind of language is more than just unfortunate. It's inaccurate, inflammatory and doesn't belong in this campaign," Rubio told the Miami Herald.

So, did his defense of the former Massachusetts governor constitute an endorsement? No. Rubio spokesman Alex Conant told CNN, "We remain neutral." Neutral, but perhaps not detached.

Romney and Gingrich are in a statistical dead heat in Florida, according to the latest CNN/Time/ORC International Poll.

What would Rubio bring to a Republican ticket? Many believe he could pull the Hispanic vote and clinch the victory in November. But others remind us there is no one single Hispanic vote but rather a complex group united only by a common language, with heritages as diverse as Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, El Salvador or the Dominican Republic. In 2008, Hispanics voted 67% for then-Sen. Barack Obama over Sen. John McCain, who received 31% of their votes.

Navarrette: GOP, don't blow it with Florida's Latinos

Juan Hernandez, a Republican strategist and CNN en EspaƱol political contributor, offers caution. "Marco Rubio is well-liked among Hispanics but he must speak clearly in favor of immigration reform to bring votes to a Republican candidate for president."

Immigration is an area where Rubio differs from other Hispanic elected officials. He recently said that immigration isn't the sole issue for Hispanic Americans. But as a wedge issue, it makes many Latinos -- even those registered as Republicans -- feel uncomfortable when the candidates talk about border security while rejecting the legalization of some undocumented workers and demanding that America makes English its official language.

There are those who believe that Rubio, a Cuban-American, would have a hard time attracting Mexican-Americans, who represent seven out of every 10 Latinos in the United States.

At the CNN debate in Jacksonville, Florida, on Thursday night, the candidates were asked about which Hispanics they would include in their administration. Rubio was first on the list for a Cabinet slot from Rick Santorum, while Gingrich suggested the senator might be more suited for a more "central and dignified" role than a Cabinet post.

Hernandez, a Mexican-American, said he believes there are other people besides the Florida senator worth looking at. "Rubio has notoriety today, but there is much room for leadership in the Hispanic political arena," he said.

Romney talks about possible running mates

Another name that comes up as a potential vice president is Susana Martinez, the Republican governor of New Mexico whose name was also mentioned Thursday night. Martinez is a Mexican-American conservative, but like Rubio, her position on immigration is in sharp contrast to where many Hispanics are on the subject.

She wants to revoke driver's licenses from undocumented immigrants in her state and signed an executive order requiring state police to check the immigration status of "criminal suspects."

But Maria Cardona, a democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, doubts Martinez can deliver the Latino vote. "Gov. Martinez would be a better match to garner any Latino support than Rubio ever would," she said. "But even so, she did not win the majority of the Latino vote in her state and if the VP nominee, presumably she would mirror the GOP nominee on all issues, which would mean she would be on the wrong side of most issues important to Latinos and so it would still be an uphill for her to garner enough Latino support for the GOP ticket."

"Latinos vote on the issues, not on surnames."

Rivera Introduces a Military-Only Version of DREAM Act

Miami Herald: Inspired by Monday nights Republican presidential debate over immigration, Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, filed a bill that would give young people who serve in the military not college students a path to U.S. citizenship.

"If somebody is willing to die for America, then certainly they deserve a chance at life in America," Rivera said.

Rivera's plan is called the Adjusted Residency for Military Service Act the ARMS Act. It's a variation on the DREAM Act, which would grant legal status to some children of undocumented immigrants who were brought illegally to the United States by their parents.

The DREAM Act passed the Democratic-controlled House last year, with the support of only a few Republicans, including Miami Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Lincoln Diaz-Balart. But it failed in the Senate, and the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee ,who took charge last year, has said the DREAM Act won't get another hearing on his watch.

Rivera said he'd been quietly working on immigration reform since he came to Congress a year ago. He said he decided to go with the military-only piece because it already had the support of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich the GOP candidate who Rivera is backing in Tuesdays Florida primary. But it also got a nod from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney during Mondays presidential debate in Florida.

"With the presidential debate...and with Romney's support, that means the two front-running candidates are supportive of it and that could help these kids," Rivera said. "Then Republicans in Congress (might) say: If our two presidential front-runners are fine with it, most Americans would be fine with it."

Romney had previously said he'd veto the DREAM Act, but has recently endorsed the portion of the legislation that gives young people a path to citizenship in return for military service. His endorsement of the concept came even as he and Gingrich are both fighting for the votes of Hispanic Republicans in Tuesdays presidential primary.

"I would not sign the Dream Act as it currently exists," Romney said during the debate. "But I would sign the Dream Act if it were focused on military service."

That was a centerpiece of Gingrich's immigration position at a Nov. 22 debate, where he also said that some law-abiding longtime illegal immigrants with roots in the community should be given a path to residency just not citizenship.

Rivera wouldn't say whether he would have voted for the DREAM Act had he been in Congress when the vote came up last year. He said that he did add some measures to his legislation that might sway skeptics, including a provision that requires applicants to have been in the country not only since they before they turned 16, but for five consecutive years.

His own bill doesn't ensure automatic residency, Rivera said. Applicants would need to meet a set of preliminary criteria to be considered for the program, and once accepted, demonstrate good moral conduct and a record of service in the United States military to then be eligible for legal status.

Because the DREAM Act wont pass as the bill currently exits, said Rivera, why not try to get a bill that would pass.

"There's also a lot to be said for victory-by-victory, year-by-year," he said. "Laying the groundwork could very much expedite those reforms in the future."

Many immigration advocates have noted that Romney's hard stance on illegal immigration wasnt helpful in South Carolina or Iowa, and that he had to modify his views when he got to Florida. If Republicans are seen as too tough on young Hispanics who could benefit from the DREAM Act, it could hurt them in Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Florida during the general election.

A Pew Research Center survey released Monday in advance of the presidents State of the Union address found that illegal immigration just isn't as important as it once was to people, compared to concerns about the economy, jobs, education and even the environment.

The share of Americans who rank it as a top priority has fallen to 39 percent from 46 a year ago and 55 percent in 2007, Pew found. The decline occurred across party lines, most notably among Republicans. In 2007, it was the second-highest priority after terrorism for Republicans, with 69 percent ranking it a top priority. Today, just 48 percent of Republicans rate it as a top priority, ranked lower than 11 other priorities.

Why Did Romney Go So Far Right on Immigration?

The Atlantic reported that: Newt Gingrich pulled a Spanish-language radio ad that called Mitt Romney "anti-immigrant" on Wednesday, but what's surprising is not that the ad aired, but that he gave Gingrich so much material to work with.

"Latinos of both parties are surprised at how far Romney moved to the right on immigration during the primary campaign," BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith writes at Politico. He said he'd veto the Dream Act, which would let college students and members of the military become citizens. He spent several minutes during a primary debate in the fall arguing with Rick Perry over "illegals," which ended with Romney saying, "I'm running for office for Pete's sake. I can't have illegals." Monday night, Romney said his immigration policies would be tough enough that people would "self-deport." All Gingrich has to say to look like a radical moderate -- literally, this is what he says -- is that he wouldn't "deport grandmothers."

President Obama is weaker among Latinos than he was four years ago, according to a new poll from the right-leaning group Resurgent Republic. But if Romney is the nominee, he's going to have a hard time taking advantage of that.

"Romney has done himself some real damage," Florida Republican strategist Ana Navarro told Smith. "Romney has now thrown Obama a lifesaver on the issue. It's been stupid and unnecessary. He could have been more nuanced and left himself room to maneuver."

Oddly, not only are Romney's immigration positions likely to hurt him in the long run, they don't appear to be based on a clear principle. He supports making it easier for high-skilled workers to get green cards to work in America -- in other words, he wants it to be easier to come here if workers are highly educated and middle class. But his position on the Dream Act -- letting military members become citizens but not college students -- means that if those workers are already here and aspire to become middle class by getting an education, that's a no-go.

In The Washington Post, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush offers four ways for Republicans to win back Latinos, but they seem closed off to Romney. Bush writes that like all voters, Latinos want their candidates to empathize with their experience -- of being immigrants, of struggling with English. But Romney wants to make English the official language of the U.S. Bush says Republicans' pro-entrepreneur message appeals to immigrants who come here to make a better life for their families. But Romney doesn't support the Dream Act. Bush says "we need to think of immigration reform as an economic issue, not just a border security issue." Romney's position is to build a huge fence.

"Its very tempting to come into an audience like this and to pander to the audience," Romney told Univision Wednesday. But his problem is he pandered to the wrong crowd.

Poll: Obama's Got a Hispanic Problem

U.S. News and World Report: Florida's growing Hispanic community, which now constitutes nearly a quarter of the state's population, holds the key to victory in the upcoming GOP presidential primary and in the November election. A new survey from Resurgent Republic, the polling operation cofounded by former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, found that they have soured on President Barack Obama.

The survey of 500 registered Hispanic voters released Thursday shows that "President Obama continues to underperform among Florida Hispanic voters and has done little to bolster his standing." In fact, he's losing ground, polling 11 points below his 2008 performance on the presidential generic ballot, "which alone is enough to erase his three-point margin of victory over John McCain."

Why is Obama doing so poorly? Respondents in the survey identified weak leadership as one of their concerns, saying the president "has been a weaker leader than they expected" him to be by a margin of 56 percent to 35 percent. An astounding 60 percent said he has "not delivered" on the promises he made to them in the 2008 election while, by a margin of 42 percent to 38 percent, they believe he has "made things worse" for Florida's Hispanic community.

Perhaps the president's biggest problem is, that by more than two-to-one, Florida's Hispanic voters "believe things have gotten worse, not better" for them since Obama took office. Only 5 percent said things had improved while 40 percent said they have stayed about the same.

Interestingly the poll found that "the most recent citizens are the most pessimistic."

The survey said,

Voters who were not born in the U.S. say things have gotten worse rather than better by 43 to 16 percent, compared to a 31 to 12 percent margin among 1st generation immigrants, and a 26 to 9 percent margin among 2nd generation immigrants.

Speaking of immigration, the survey found somewhat surprisingly that it is not the No. 1 issue for most Hispanics. Only 13 percent cited it as their top issue while 32 percent ranked it in the top three. They did say they want to hear it talked about more, but most said they preferred a comprehensive strategy with "the top choice, among 58 percent of voters" being legislation that includes "border security, a temporary-worker program, and earned legal status for undocumented immigrants who are already here, because any solution to the immigration problem must deal with all of the problems with our immigration system."

Obama also gets low marks where federal spending and debt, the economy, and jobs are concerned with, by 60 to 27 percent, Florida Hispanics saying America is off on the wrong track rather than headed in the right direction. This level of pessimism, which is reflected if not amplified across other segments of the electorate, puts Florida in the toss-up column for the upcoming election.

In Airport Run-In, Democrats See Help for Obama Among Hispanics

New York Times: Democrats see the chance that President Obama's heated exchange with Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona on the airport tarmac in Phoenix could help him with the Hispanic voters he came West to court this week.

The run-in, captured in a photograph of the governor wagging a finger at the president as they discussed her book, Scorpions for Breakfast, lit up Hispanic radio stations and blogs all over the state. While it is difficult to judge whether the moment will have any lasting impact, Hispanic leaders said that what is being dubbed by some as the dustup in the desert could play in the presidents favor given the unfavorable view many Hispanics have of the governor for her advocacy of tough immigration measures.

For that incident alone, Robert Meza, a Democratic state senator from Phoenix, said Thursday, 85 percent more Latin people will gravitate toward the president.

Republicans saw the incident in another light. Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, told the show Imus in the Morning on Fox Business Network that Ms. Brewer had very legitimate concerns about the states border and that her tarmac exchange with Mr. Obama was another display of the presidents prickly personality.

Appearing on Fox News on Thursday, Ms. Brewer said Mr. Obama had walked off while she was still talking. "You know me, when I talk, I am animated and I talk with my hands," she said, explaining her finger-wagging. I suppose that the picture was probably shot when I was moving my hands around.

In an interview with ABC News that was broadcast Thursday, Mr. Obama said the conflict was being blown out of proportion.

"I'm usually accused of not being intense enough, right?" he said, laughing. "Too relaxed."

The book, in which Ms. Brewer takes the federal government to task for what she calls lax enforcement of immigration laws, is, like Ms. Brewer herself, unpopular among Latinos, particularly in Arizona, a state Mr. Obama is hoping to put in play this election year.

The president, for his part, was doing all he could to build his standing among voters in this potentially crucial bloc. While his five-state tour is ostensibly meant to roll out the tax, manufacturing, energy, education and jobs proposals he unveiled in his State of the Union address this week, the White House made sure that three of the states on the high-profile itinerary were swing states where the Hispanic vote will be crucial.

Besides Arizona, the president traveled to Nevada, visiting a UPS plant on Thursday to talk about energy proposals, before heading to Colorado to give another speech. He took along with him Luis Miranda, his director of Hispanic media.

And he gave interviews to two Spanish-language television networks on the trip, one to Telemundo on Thursday in Las Vegas and one on Wednesday to Univision, which has increasingly been influencing the view of national politics among Hispanics.

During Mr. Obama's Univision interview, the anchor Maria Elena Salinas pressed the president on one of the few potential sore spots that could hurt his chances of winning large numbers of Hispanic voters: the record numbers of deportations since he took office.

"Over 1.2 million people have been deported under your administration," Ms. Salinas said. "More families separated under your administration than any other president. You couldn't do anything administratively for this?"

Mr. Obama sought to turn the question around to reflect his other efforts on behalf of immigrants, particularly those with no criminal background.

"That's the law that's on the books right now," he said, quickly adding: "What we have systematically done, is to use our administrative authority to prioritize and say, 'Let's not focus on Dream Act kids. Let's not focus on a law-abiding family that is out there trying to, you know, make their way. Let's focus on folks who are engaged in criminal activity."

While Mr. Obama acknowledged during the Univision interview that his Spanish is not very good, he still managed to delight the crowd during his speech in Chandler, Ariz. One man yelled, "Barack es mi hermano!" which means "Barack is my brother." Mr. Obama shouted back: "Mi hermano, mucho gusto," for "My brother, good to meet you."

As the Republican presidential candidates battle it out in Florida for Latino voters, Mr. Obama's Spanish-language outreach has been under way in other critical states, where his backers have been running Spanish-language advertisements. Seeking an edge in the Florida presidential primary, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have broadcast Spanish-language commercials in that state, and both men also gave interviews to Univision this week.

Publicly, the White House treated the confrontation with Ms. Brewer with a scripted, and bland, retelling. "Political theater," the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, told reporters aboard Air Force One to Denver.

But privately, one administration official, when asked on Thursday about the Wednesday confrontation, offered: "Let's just say I don't think yesterday was a bad day."

Entrepreneurial Immigrants Could Mean Creation of More Jobs for U.S. Citizens

UT San Diego (by Sharon R. Mehlman, Sandra M. Wagner & Kathleen Grzegorek): With record-high unemployment and our representatives in Washington futilely grasping for ways to create jobs, you would think there would be shouting from the rooftops and cable TV victory laps when a true job-creating measure were enacted.

Curiously, an important policy change that will lead directly to more American jobs seems to have been enacted by the Obama administration with no fanfare at all. In a series of outreach efforts by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas, they have “outlined a series of policy, operational and outreach efforts to fuel the nation’s economy and stimulate investment by attracting foreign entrepreneurial talent of exceptional ability or who otherwise can create jobs, form startup companies, and invest capital in areas of high unemployment.”

As immigration attorneys, we experience daily the ways our outmoded immigration laws frustrate job creation. We see how tens of thousands of the top scientists, engineers, programmers and other key specialists whom we train in our universities are sent abroad to compete against us because we are unable to issue them a green card. We see how entrepreneurs who want to come to America to start businesses and create U.S. jobs go to Canada, Chile or Singapore instead because there is no entrepreneur visa in America.

The road for entrepreneurs is illustrative of how broken our immigration system really is. Because entrepreneurs generally cannot come here as owners or founders of their business, unless the business is already sizable and they come from a country with which we have a treaty, they are forced to contort logic and apply for a visa as employees.

Over the years, we have seen entrepreneurs spend thousands of dollars and endure months of bureaucratic waiting, only to be denied a visa to come here and found companies that they have gone on to successfully start elsewhere.

It is time for change, and look no further than Silicon Valley.

After years in the Israeli elite software development units, Amit Aharoni enrolled in Stanford University and received his MBA. He teamed up with a Stanford computer scientist and a business graduate from Harvard to found CruiseWise, a company that seeks to do for cruise booking what Kayak has done for flights. Within months CruiseWise had secured more than $1.5 million in venture capital funding and scaled up to nine employees. All seemed to be going well until Amit received a letter from USCIS informing him that he was rejected for his temporary high-skilled visa and had to leave the country immediately.

Amit flew to Canada and tried desperately to run his company from afar using Skype. But the difficulties of running a California company from British Columbia seemed insurmountable, and Amit began to consider, as so many spurned entrepreneurs had before him, of moving his company and jobs he created out of America.

But Amit was fortunate. He was a member of the Partnership for a New American Economy

(www.RenewOurEconomy.org), the bipartisan coalition of more than 400 prominent business leaders and mayors making the case that smarter immigration policies would create American jobs. The partnership helped Amit tell his story to the public. He was featured on “ABC World News with Diane Sawyer,” and immediately following the broadcast, Amit received a letter from USCIS informing him that his visa application had been reconsidered and approved. Amit returned to California to get his American business back on track.

Amit’s story was a true success, but one that immigration lawyers assumed was an anomaly. When we subsequently applied for visas for our foreign entrepreneur clients, we assumed that we would continue to face the hassle and likely rejection that we have seen for years. Surprisingly, some of us have seen a trickle of our entrepreneur clients being approved. This emerging trend will allow new American businesses to flourish and more American jobs are going to be created.

So where is the shouting from the rooftops? Where is the cable TV victory lap? Immigration reform is a budget-neutral way to create jobs at a time when budget-neutral options are scarce. As immigration attorneys, we applaud the work that the USCIS director has done to maximize our job-creating potential, and we hope Congress will follow suit in embracing the economic imperative of immigration reform.

We call on Congress to enact a visa for entrepreneurs so we can roll out the carpet for job creators like Amit Aharoni. American jobs depend on it.

Mehlman is a partner with Larrabee, Mehlman, Albi & Coker LLP, San Diego. Wagner is a principal with Law Offices of Sandra M. Wagner, San Diego. Grzegorek is a certified specialist in immigration & nationality law and partner with Stone & Grzegorek LLP, Los Angeles.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Candidates Scramble to Win Hispanic Votes in Florida

New York Times: The leading Republican candidates spent Wednesday appealing for the votes of South Floridas Hispanic voters, with the campaigns of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich skirmishing over an advertisement that branded Mr. Romney as anti-immigration.

The Spanish-language radio advertisement by the Gingrich campaign called Mr. Romney the most anti-immigrant candidate in the field. That drew a strong condemnation on Wednesday from Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American who is remaining neutral in the race and who said in remarks to The Miami Herald that the advertisement was inaccurate, inflammatory and doesn't belong in this campaign. And Mr. Romney, addressing the commercial, called himself pro-immigrant in remarks before an event sponsored by Univision, the Spanish-language network. Its very sad for a candidate to resort to that kind of epithet, he said.

The Gingrich campaign said it was pulling down the radio advertisement, because, Mr. Gingrich said, "I have great respect for Senator Rubio. But the back-and-forth highlighted the scramble for votes among Hispanic voters, particularly the Cuban-Americans who are such a force in South Florida's Republican politics."

People of Hispanic origin make up 22.5 percent of Florida's population, compared with 16.3 percent of the United States population, according to census data from 2010. They tend to vote more with Republicans than elsewhere, although polls from 2008 show that President Obama picked up more than half the Hispanic votes in the state, a contrast to the 2004 election, when a majority sided with George W. Bush.

Mr. Romney, Mr. Gingrich and Rick Santorum all appeared at the Univision event, where Mr. Gingrich faced one of the toughest interviews of his campaign when questioned by Jorge Ramos of the network.

Mr. Ramos noted that in a poll released Wednesday by Univision, ABC News and Latino Decisions, in which Mr. Gingrich was matched against Mr. Obama, a vast majority of Hispanic voters chose Mr. Obama.

"You would lose the general election with these numbers," he warned.

Mr. Gingrich's policy proposals for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country are a shade more moderate than those of some of his rivals; Mr. Romney has spoken out against amnesty for illegal immigrants and raised, in Mondays debate, the idea of self-deportation, or inducing illegal immigrants to leave voluntarily. Discussing these positions, Mr. Gingrich accused Mr. Romney of lacking concern for the humanity of the people who are already here.

Mr. Ramos pressed him on why, if he was compassionate, he did not support the Dream Act, which would offer some illegal immigrants brought to this country as children a path to citizenship. Mr. Gingrich said he was for half the Dream Act, giving citizenship to people who enlist in the United States Army.

As the Republicans appealed for votes among Cuban-Americans and other Hispanics, one person who said he was not enamored of the field expressed his distaste: Fidel Castro, the retired Cuban leader whose 1959 takeover prompted the exodus of Cubans to South Florida.

"The selection of a Republican candidate for the presidency of this globalized and expansive empire is and I mean this seriously the greatest competition of idiocy and ignorance that has ever been," he wrote in an opinion piece in state-owned news media.

He had reason to be annoyed. In Mondays debate, Mr. Gingrich said he would authorize covert actions to bring down the Cuban government, while Mr. Romney cited the Jan. 19 death of a Cuban prisoner, Wilman Villar Mendoza, in calling for maintaining a tough policy toward Cuba. The candidates also discussed whether the 85-year-old leader would go to heaven or hell.

In Mr. Romney's appearance before the Univision event, he defended his proposal for self-deportation, saying that if illegal immigrants were no longer able to find work, they would decide to go back to their home country.

He said that by criticizing his proposals before the same group, Mr. Gingrich was pandering for Hispanic votes.

"It's very tempting to come into an audience like this and to pander to the audience," Mr. Romney said.

Mr. Ramos, in his interview with Mr. Romney, noted that the candidates father was born in Mexico and asked whether Mr. Romney could claim to be Mexican-American.

"I don't think people would think I'm being honest if I said I was Mexican-American", Mr. Romney said, laughing. But he added: "I would appreciate it if you could get that word out."

Mitt Romney's Immigration Dilemma

Politico: For a moment Wednesday afternoon in Miami, Mitt Romney seemed to have a solution to his Hispanic problem: Was he not, Univisions Jorge Ramos asked, Mexican-American himself, as his father had been born south of the border?

Romney confessed his parents were American citizens who never spoke Spanish.

"I don't think people would think I was being honest with them if I said I was Mexican-American," Romney said, adding that he'd still be grateful if Ramos put the word out.

Romney needs a better answer, and though he did his best in South Florida to project a soft line on illegal immigrants and a hard line on Fidel Castro who he suggested would go to hell, he has dug himself a deep hole. Hispanic activists in both parties told POLITICO they are stunned by how far right Romney has moved in the past two months, and think he will have a hard time coming back.

"As for Romney, immigration and the Hispanic vote, put a fork in him. He's done, cooked, burnt," said Frank Sharry, the founder and executive director of the Democratic group America's Voice. Sharry said Democrats would have had reason to fear an immigration moderate with strong Hispanic credentials like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who recently warned his party to moderate its tone on immigration.

But the former Massachusetts governor, he argued, finds himself in an impossible position. What can Romney do? If he flip-flops in the general, he'll piss off his new hard-liner friends on the right and underscore his flip-flopping reputation; he stays hard right and [angers] the fastest growing voter bloc in the country.

Some Republicans have come around to the same opinion.

"Romney has done himself some real damage," said Ana Navarro, a Florida Republican who has advised John McCain and Jeb Bush. "Romney has now thrown Obama a lifesaver on the issue. It's been stupid and unnecessary. He could have been more nuanced and left himself room to maneuver."

"Immigration is not most the important issue for Hispanics, but it definitely sets a tone," she said.

The Hispanic community, indeed, is one place where Romney has failed to line up the support of the Republican establishment. Navarro backed Huntsman. Lionel Sosa, a former aide to George W. Bush and a leading figure for an older generation of Hispanic Republicans, works with Newt Gingrich.

The litany of complaints about Romney is long. Perhaps the sharpest is that he says he would veto the DREAM Act, a poll-tested corner of immigration reform that would legalize only the most virtuous of illegal immigrants: people who came as children and then enrolled in college or the military. A Univision poll released Tuesday found 54 percent of Hispanic voters saying they'd be less likely to choose a candidate who promises to veto the legislation, which has the support of more than 90 percent of Hispanic voters in other polls.

Romney also repeatedly used immigration as a wedge on the campaign trail, jabbing Rick Perry over his relatively moderate stance on the issue the exchange prompted Perry to call Romney and his allies heartless and supporting harsh laws that would convince immigrants to self-deport.

Fueling the frustration of Hispanic leaders: Romney has not, in fact, faced a serious challenge from the anti-immigrant right, and the immigration attacks were not ultimately what felled Perry, the man who was for a moment his most threatening opponent.

"It's really a gratuitous, self-inflicted wound," marveled Eliseo Medina, the secretary-treasurer the No. 2 post at the Service Employees International Union, which has already endorsed Obama.

"He's had three months in which he has been doing nonstop bashing immigrants basically and the sad part of it is I don't think he had to."

Romney has spent his time in Florida trying to make amends, tapping the anti-Communist sentiment of Miami Cubans a fading force in Hispanic politics but still a potent one and sparring with Gingrich over the attack ads the former House speaker has been airing which call Romney anti-immigrant.

A Romney campaign official who handles Hispanic outreach, Ana Carbonell, wasn't immediately available to comment Wednesday, but some of his supporters believe the risk is overstated.

"Immigration is the least of his worries now," said Alex Castellanos, a consultant who advised Romney's 2008 campaign. "In general, he can surround himself with [former Florida Sen. Mel] Martinez and [Florida Sen. Marco] Rubio and come out with a strong plan to increase employment-based legal immigration so we stop China from raiding our top intellectual draft choices."

But Romney has reason to worry: He watched a close friend, Meg Whitman, lose her bid for governor of California in part because she was pushed to the right during the Republican primary, running television ads calling for a wall on the border.

"She went right on immigration and then tried to really court Latino voters in the general election, and it was very difficult for her," said Arturo Vargas, the executive director of the nonpartisan, California-based National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

That's something that any candidate should be wary of: How do you say one thing during a primary season and try to change a position or nuance it in a general election?

ICE Considers Expansion of Immigration Pilot Program, Pending Review

CQ reported that: Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have been reviewing about 300,000 pending deportation cases nationwide and are working to expand a pilot program that grants temporary reprieves to some illegal immigrants, ICE Director John Morton told two Democratic senators and advocates of the program on Tuesday.

Morton’s remarks at the meeting held in Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin’s office are an indication that the Obama administration plans to push ahead on a new immigration policy despite criticism from Republicans who call it “back-door amnesty.”

Durbin, D-Ill., and Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., urged Morton to quickly roll out the new policy and resolve problems that have cropped up during the first few weeks of its implementation, participants reported.

“I commend the Department of Homeland Security for the steps it is taking to implement it,” Durbin said in a written statement after the meeting. “But more needs to be done and it needs to be done quickly.”

The policy, announced over the summer, targets government resources toward deporting undocumented immigrants who commit major crimes and would give a break to people with family ties in this country or who are enrolled in school or are serving in the military.

Since the agency says that each year it can deport only about 400,000 of the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants thought to be in the country, officials say it makes sense to use “prosecutorial discretion” to focus scarce resources on deporting dangerous criminals.

Immigration officials wrapped up a pilot program in Denver and Baltimore last week. Officials reviewed almost 12,000 deportation cases and determined that more than 1,600 should be closed. Expanding the program nationwide would result in roughly 40,000 closed cases, according to Schumer.

An agency official, speaking not for attribution, confirmed that the agency is reviewing 300,000 cases, and said officials were weighing expanding the Denver and Baltimore pilots nationwide.

A Sticking Point

Senators and advocates of the policy urged Morton to work out some problems with the policy’s rollout. One sticking point is the legal status of those whose deportation cases have been closed. While the new policy grants them a reprieve from deportation, it does not offer them a way to work legally.

On Tuesday, Schumer delivered a letter to Morton and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano urging them to give work authorizations to undocumented people whose cases have been dropped after review. “If a small number of individuals are being permitted to remain in the United States for one year, this one-year status should also contain the ability to work,” the New York Democrat wrote.

Denying them that ability would make the new immigration policy a “hollow victory” and force people into the underground economy, where they would not pay taxes and where “unscrupulous employers” could take advantage of them, Schumer wrote.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said the immigration enforcement agency needs to set guidelines to allow people who benefit from prosecutorial discretion to be granted “deferred action,” an administrative procedure that allows undocumented immigrants to get drivers’ licenses and to work legally.

But Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he opposes granting work authorization to an entire group of people. “That would be amnesty,” Grassley said. “The power that the president has for parole is meant to be done on an individual-by-individual basis.”

SEIU Leader: Romney Wants to Deny Housing, Heat and Water to Illegal Immigrants

The Hill reported that: A major union leader is accusing Mitt Romney of wanting to make life miserable for illegal immigrants by denying them access to heat and water, barring landlords from renting to them and obstructing their children's access to schools.

Eliseo Medina, the secretary-treasurer of Service Employees International Union, blasted Romney on Monday during a conference call announcing a Spanish-language radio ad the union is launching in partnership with Priorities USA Action, a super-PAC supporting President Obama.

Medina, the No. 2 official at the influential union, was reacting to an answer Romney gave at a debate Monday night where he said "self-deportation" was the answer to ridding the country of illegal immigrants.

"It's basically to say, 'Make their life miserable'" by refusing to rent to them or to provide access to heat and water," Medina said. "Make it difficult for their kids and their schools."

In Monday's debate, Romney was asked how he would reduce the number of illegal immigrants in the United States if he is opposed to mass deportations. The former Massachusetts governor said programs like E-Verify could be used to eliminate the financial incentive to remain in the country.

"If people can't work here, they're going to self-deport to a place where they can get work," Romney said.

Asked by The Hill how Romney's comments could be construed to imply that illegal immigrants should be denied basic necessities, Medina pointed to Romney's close relationship with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has endorsed Romney. Kobach has been credit with writing most of Alabama's harsh anti-illegal immigration law, which has been challenged in the courts.

"Mr. Romney has said he wants to support and he joins in supporting Kris Kobach," Medina said. "When he says he supports those kinds of policies, he has to own all of it."

A spokeswoman for Romney said a response to the comments would be forthcoming.

Romney has taken a more hard-line stance on immigration than most of his Republican rivals — most notably Newt Gingrich, who trounced Romney in South Carolina and who polls now show is leading Romney in Florida, a state with a large Hispanic population.

Florida will hold the next presidential primary on Jan. 31, and both Democrats and Romney's GOP competitors are hoping to use his strict stance on illegal immigration against him with Hispanic voters in the state.

Medina also accused Romney of hypocrisy for pandering to Hispanic voters in Spanish-language ads, then insulting them with his rhetoric in English and with endorsements from people like Kobach.

"Mitt Romney and other Republicans seem to forget Latinos speak English, too," Medina said. "We know what they say about us."