Does the Immigration Discussion Crowd Out Other Issues Facing the Latino Community?


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As an educator at a predominantly Latino charter school in Los Angeles, Nayeli Reyes, 29, has a unique view into the issues in her students’ lives.
“These kids have been through so much, like the loss of a parent, witnessing gang violence, and it can be very humbling to hear their stories,” Reyes said. Immigration status is a recurring, unavoidable theme in her students’ lives, explained Reyes, because it can affect everything from whether they can afford college to keeping their family intact. “Our top priority is helping our kids succeed,” she said, “but that is so often connected with immigration.”
Yet while that is the reality for millions of Latinos, there are many millions more whose lives are not directly touched by immigration issues in their family. This has led to a larger discussion among scholars and policy experts about whether immigration is crowding out other issues facing the Latino community.
In a recent commentary, National Institute for Latino Policy President Angelo Falcón wrote, “Although immigration reform affects about 15 percent of the total Latino population, as a public policy issue it now occupies almost all the Latino policy agenda, sucking up, as one colleague recently put it, all the oxygen on Latino issues.”
Falcón questions whether the continued debate about the status of the undocumented population is a distraction from the needs of the much larger pool of Hispanics who are citizens. The Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project estimates that there are 11.7 undocumented migrants in the U.S. By comparison, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the overall U.S. Hispanic population is 53 million.
“I don’t want to minimize the immigration issue,” Falcón said. “But we need to strike a better balance. It (immigration) is stifling the Latino agenda for the 21st century. We have to get to the point where we can walk and chew gum at the same time, and focus on other things like discrimination, education, and the infrastructures in our communities.”
Stella Rouse, assistant professor in government and politics at the University of Maryland, agrees with Falcón – in part. “I think immigration is having that crowding out effect now and has had that effect for years,” she said. Rouse, author of the book Latinos in the Legislative Process, said that the lack of national Latino leaders makes it harder for the community to organize around other issues. But although immigration is the issue most associated with Latinos, she pointed out, it is not necessarily the most interesting issue to Latinos. “Most Latinos would probably love not to have to deal with it.”
In December 2013, Pew Research reported that the top three issues among Hispanics were education, jobs and the economy, and healthcare. Immigration ranked fifth, after the federal government debt.
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