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The Latino Rising

by Geraldo Rivera | Oct 15, 2010

America is changing color in real time, and I'm not talking fall foliage. The just concluded U.S. Census estimates the population of Hispanic/Latino Americans surging toward fifty million. It is the nation's largest ethnic group. More broadly, the United States already has the second largest Latino population of any nation on Earth, trailing only Mexico and larger than Spain. Already more than 16% of our nation, one in four Americans will be ethnic Latinos by 2040. By the end of the century, if this trend holds, the country will be majority Latino.

That demographic tsunami does not sit well with many otherwise well-meaning Americans because it carries the threat that these newcomers will change the country; making it something other than the beacon of individual freedom and liberty it has always been. Concern over Latino immigration also coincides with our rocky economy and growing displeasure and disenchantment with President Obama. At innumerable rallies and town hall meetings critics of the president express a sense that long-held core values and principles are being replaced or usurped, that they are also, 'changing'. There is disquiet in the land, and a widespread suspicion that the president's next 'change' will be to grant illegal immigrants amnesty.

And no issue has aggravated citizen insecurity and anger more sharply than immigrant amnesty; not even taxes or bloated government.
The Reaction
How else to explain the passage in Arizona of draconian legislation (SB1070) that seeks to empower local cops to stop and card anyone even suspected of being in the United States illegally? How creepy is that; a state law (now thankfully enjoined by a federal judge) that empowers any cop with a tingle of suspicion to stop and frisk someone the cop thinks might be an illegal? What does that mean? Is this the beginning of two-tiered citizenship? The lower one for those suspected of being Hispanic?

Small wonder three out of four Latino Americans oppose this law; which ensures our youngsters, citizens included, will suffer disproportionate harassment. At a recent traffic stop, my own 22-year old son Cruz was asked, "where you from son?" But who else are the cops going to ask, some tourist with a sunburn, who they overhear speaking Hungarian?

Despite the fact that the rates of both illegal immigration and violent crime have dropped dramatically in Arizona and across the nation in recent years, the widely held American nightmare is of a cascade of dark, Spanish-speaking foreigners pouring over the fence looking to commit crime, import terrorism and steal public services.

All those phobias are proven falsehoods. Yet driven by talk radio and cable news fear mongering, national surveys consistently show huge support for SB1070 among Anglo Americans; there are movements afoot in a dozen or more states to pass similar measures. But the potency of the immigration issue is most clearly seen right now in Arizona where with just three weeks until the November election the once hugely unpopular incumbent Governor Jan Brewer has soared in front by 55% to 39%, largely because of her vigorous support of SB1070; which her Democratic opponent Terry Goddard thankfully opposes.

Whatever the outcome of that race, in the near future campaigning against immigrants will have disastrous consequences for Republicans. I call Barack Obama the first Hispanic president because in swing states like Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Florida and North Carolina new Latino voters turned red into blue in 2008. And the impact wasn't only felt in the race for the White House.

In its November 2008 post-election report, "the GOP: Fenced in by Immigration," the important website tracked 21 battleground house and senate races across the country where one of the candidates was more hard-line/enforcement-only than the other on the issue of immigration reform.

In 19 of those 21 races, the more liberal, pro-comprehensive reform candidate won; 19 of 21 races. With Hispanics already comprising 25% of the population in Arizona, and over 30% in Texas, it will not be long in those states before candidates and initiatives perceived as targeted at Hispanics will not sit well with most voters.
Harsh Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric is False and Bad for American Business
The pity of the immigration issue is that it is a sideshow distorted by rhetoric. Even if the current efforts at sealing the border, (which most law-abiding Hispanic citizens applaud), are one hundred percent successful, the surge in America's Latino population is a done deal. That demographic genie is out of the bottle. That is the reality Americans of good will should embrace. On the business side of the ledger, there are billions to be made in products geared for this enormous emerging market. Our culture is already being heavily influenced by everyone from JLo to A-Rod to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to Taco Bell. Our stressed military happily eyes this pool of patriotic potential recruits to fill its brave ranks exhausted by a decade of continuous war fighting. Groups like the Boy Scouts and even NASCAR have vigorous out-reach programs to embrace these newcomers. This is a burgeoning, hard-working, family values community that will also be the savior of Social Security, injecting new young blood into our otherwise aging work force.
As my Fox news colleague Karl Rove told Newsweek magazine following that disastrous (for Republicans) 2008 election, the GOP must support policy that "strengthens citizenship, grows our economy and keeps America a welcoming nation."

Like Martin Luther King Jr. and more recently Glenn beck, I also have a dream. That President Obama doubles down on history, and completes the arc between himself and Abraham Lincoln. The nation's first black (and brown) president can issue his own Emancipation Proclamation for this age. By threatening what I'm about to suggest, the president could force Congress either to act rationally or be relegated to the scrap heap of history.

What he could do is announce that if the legislative branch fails to pass meaningful immigration reform by a certain date, as every president has done from the founding of the Republic, and as the Constitution specifically empowers him to do, Mr. Obama can pardon the illegal immigrants, grant that general amnesty, and say to the entire world that those immigrants who are here are absolved of any crime of status.

This move is not the nightmare some fear because there are important qualifications:

They are free to stay here, so long as they are not convicted or indicted criminals, and otherwise qualify for legal residence. All candidates for amnesty must register, and be fingerprinted, photographed and comply with any other reasonable prerequisites, like comprehensive background checks, waiting lists and fines. Not as citizens initially, but as holders of a valid, renewable visa, the specifics of which can be defined over time by federal authorities. They would begin a long road to citizenship, but in the meantime live free from the fear of lawmen, vigilantes or the talk radio mob.

As it has always done, our country will change these recent arrivals more than they change America, but we will be, indeed we already are richer for their presence in our society, and our bastion of liberty would be true to its welcoming tradition.

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