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Despite Anti-Immigrant GOP, Some Latinos Are Sticking With McCain

Vida en el Valle, News Report, Martn Martnez Posted: Sep 12, 2008

Editor's Note: Anti-immigration hard-liners in the GOP have scared away many Latinos, leading immigrant voters to abandon the Republican Party in record numbers. But some Latinos still believe John McCain has their interests at heart.

FRESNO, Calif. -- The platform approved at last week's Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., may have a strong anti-immigrant message that could spell trouble for the party's nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, in his efforts to court the Latino vote.

The platform also supports construction of a wall on the Mexico-U.S. border, making English the country's official language, opposition of legislation that would allow undocumented students into colleges, and encourage the U.S. Census to count only legal residents in the 2010 census so that the makeup of Congress could be determined solely on those who are lawful residents.

These positions could undercut McCain's appeal to Latino voters -- but Miryam Mora, a 26-year-old Mexican immigrant who will vote for the first time in November doesn't see it that way.

"The Republican Party can say whatever it wants, but its candidate, John McCain, has declared himself in favor of immigration reform as soon as the borders are secured, which is the most important thing for me," said Mora, a Republican delegate from El Monte.

Mora, the first in her family to graduate from college, considers the border between Mexico and the United States threatened by many problems that afflict people in both countries, such as illegal drug and arms trafficking, and increasingly bold "coyotes" (human smugglers).

"When McCain talks about securing the border, he's referring to ending all these problems that exist between the two countries, but he's never against the immigrants themselves. On the contrary, his platform is in favor of our community," Mora said.

Mora added that in 1986, when an amnesty was offered to undocumented immigrants, a promise was made to strengthen the border, but little has been done to fulfill that obligation, so the situation has gotten worse and new problems have emerged.

"Securing the border is not anti-immigrant, but just the opposite. McCain proposes it to protect the community," said Mora, the daughter of migrant farm and garment workers.

Mora, who became a U.S. citizen in March, is taking leave from her job to become a full-time volunteer for McCain.

McCain, who enjoys high popularity among Latinos in Arizona, is considered a politician who often breaks with his own party's positions. Immigration reform is considered a key example of this: While the vast majority of Republicans are against it, McCain continues to support immigration reform on his own.

Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, who on various occasions has called McCain the best qualified candidate for president, said during the convention that if McCain were an ordinary candidate, he never would have led an effort to overhaul the nation's immigration system.

For Texas delegate Luis de la Garza, immigration reform is the best weapon McCain has to attract the Latino vote, one he will continue to use even if his party rebels against him.

"McCain is always going to support immigration reform and he won't rest until he sees Congress approve it because he knows very well that it's necessary to fix the immigration system, even if that costs him enemies in his own party, and also because, being a Senator from Arizona, he knows the needs of our people first-hand," De la Garza explained.

But for De la Garza, immigration reform is not the only issue McCain can use to attract the Latino vote. The candidate also offers very strong ideas, he says, for bolstering the national economy, improving education and developing the economy of the Latino community.

"No politician or candidate understands the needs of the Latino community better than McCain. That's why he's committed himself not just to naturalizing 12 million undocumented immigrants but also to providing the tools Latinos need to get ahead in all aspects of life in this country," De la Garza said.
When he was last re-elected to the Senate from Arizona, McCain won 70 percent of the Latino vote in that state. The most recent polling in the race against Democratic challenger, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, shows McCain has only 30 percent of the U.S. Latino vote.

Luis Alvarado, a Republican delegate from the Los Angeles area, said that during the coming weeks, as in previous elections, the Latino community will begin to realize that McCain is the best candidate for the presidency, since his experience and political skill are beyond question.

"Of course McCain goes against his own party even though he risks his own career by doing so, because he's always done as his conscience dictates and not as his party demands," said Alvarado.

Mora, De la Garza and Alvarado said Obama might have good intentions but lacks the experience to govern the United States.

"Obama speaks like a clergyman, not a politician, and in these tough times the country cannot afford the luxury of experimenting to see if things work out with a candidate who speaks nicely but does not have experience," said Alvarado.

The Republican Party's platform, however, will hamper McCain's outreach to Latinos, according to some pro-immigrant organizations.

McCain "has surrendered to the wishes of his own party platform that serves up the same anti-immigrant mush to America," said the pro-immigrant group America's Voice in a press statement. The group also noted that McCain did not mention immigration reform during his acceptance speech last Thursday.

"While I hope Senator McCain's voice on this issue wins out over the extremist wing of his party, the convention shows the hard-liners currently control the debate," said America's Voice executive director Frank Sharry. "No wonder immigrant voters are abandoning the Republican Party in record numbers."

The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of 26 of the country's leading Latino civil rights and public policy organizations, sent a Sept. 2 letter rejecting the Republican Party's platform.

"The Republican platform caters to a vocal minority of anti-immigrant activists and is unacceptable to Latinos," said coalition chair John Trasvia.

"The Republican platform ignores our demand for common-sense immigration reforms that include a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants who work hard, violate no criminal laws, and contribute greatly to the American economy and society. Instead, it urges the federal government to continue with failed deportation-only strategies that tear families apart, divide communities, and fail our nation," he added.

"Instead of catering to anti-immigrant activists, the Republican Party must do better if it expects to win the Latino vote in November and beyond," said Trasvia.

Latino convention speakers, however, painted a different picture of the party.

Florida Sen. Mel Martnez: "The challenges and dangers we face in this uncertain world ... call for strong leadership, and a clear understanding of the threats we face... and how to meet and beat them. Only one man in this race is qualified to meet the current global challenges. Only one man has a history of always putting country first. That man is John McCain!"

Rosario Marn, State and Consumer Services Agency secretary: "I know in my heart that there could be no better champions in the White House for people with disabilities and their families than John McCain and Sarah Palin."

Tom Martnez, pastor and godfather to McCain's son, Jimmie: "I have seen John paint houses and clean yards for the poor and elderly in the barrios of South Phoenix. He is not just a public servant when the lights are on and the camera is running, it's his way of life."

Dr. Elena Ros: "John McCain's focus on prevention will go a long way toward lowering the cost and incidence of chronic diseases. People will be able to obtain care that is tailored to their individual needs. Senator McCain intends to expand the use of walk-in clinics as alternatives to emergency rooms."

Related Articles:

Did the GOP Scare Off Latino Voters?

The Latino Vote Is Not in the Democratic Bag--Yet

Obama, McCain Ramp Up Latino Drives

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