The President recently gave new life to the immigration debate when he met with leaders in the Hispanic community, inciting countless commentaries from pundits and legislators.
The seriousness of the Administration’s reform efforts has come under scrutiny in recent months. Many are concerned with the fact that the Administration has waited until now -- the beginning of President Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign -- to make this issue a “priority.” But taken at face value as fact is the perception that all Hispanics want amnesty for immigration offenders and they want open borders.
Unfortunately, this untenable assumption could not be further from the truth. What most do not understand is that Hispanics are as diverse in opinion as they are in background, race, language, and culture.
Some of these differences are important to note to get a full understanding of the dissimilarities in political opinion. First, not all Hispanics are from Mexico, Central America, or even south of the border. Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and Dominicans hail from the Caribbean and are distinct in culture, language, appearance, and history.
Nor is it true that all Hispanics are from a foreign country. Puerto Ricans, in particular, have the most unique culture resulting from their long-standing connection to the United States and having gained universal citizenship in 1917. Even more shocking to many is the fact that, according to the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of all Hispanics were born in the United States.
Given such diversity, why are we expected to believe that all Hispanics agree on the issue of immigration? Well, the squeaky wheel gets the oil; that is to say, the majority of the organizations represented in the media or approached by the Administration are also the ones who are the best at organizing and being heard.
However, there is a growing and seemingly contrarian opinion that is increasingly popular amongst second and third generation Hispanics, those who have already completed the arduous legal path to citizenship, and those who believe that making citizenship too easy to obtain may actually be detrimental to their fellow Americans.
These Hispanics see security as the major concern. Maintaining information on who enters and remains in our country, knowing whether they have a criminal history, being cognizant of potential terroristic or gang affiliations or harmful, infectious diseases that people may be carrying are all examples of vital data that is essential to maintaining our national security, our health, and our overall well-being.
Everyone, however, is sympathetic to the plight of the desperate, low-wage farmworker, for example, who cannot afford to wait five to 15 years to enter the country legally and therefore opts to risk his or her life to enter the land of opportunity.
God bless those souls who choose patience, but extensive waiting periods discourage legal immigration, and seem to result from an excessively bureaucratic system.
Aside from accepting other countries’ “tired [and] poor” all agree that continuing to attract the best and the brightest, as well as those who innovate, research, and create businesses and jobs will maintain America’s exceptional position in the world. Proposed legislation to do so has been recently submitted, and widely supported, by members of Congress from both sides of the aisle -- only to be tabled for unexplained reasons.
Whatever results from the debate, we all know that complete amnesty is just as impossible as resolute deportation, security will be just as important as remaining open to great immigrant minds, and race will be baited as often as assumptions will be made.
But what cannot be forgotten is that no single group or person speaks for all Hispanics, or all Americans. Those politicians, administrative officials, organization heads, and other leaders who lump an ethnicity into a singular ideology are going to find themselves discriminating against the only monolithic voice that exists in the United States: believers in the American quest for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Justin Vélez-Hagan is the National Executive Director of The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce, Publisher of MinorityEconomicReport.com, and an international developer of senior living facilities. He can be reached at JustinV@NPRChamber.org.