Last night’s feisty and engaging vice presidential debate touched on a range of domestic and international issues – everything from taxes, Medicare, auto bailouts and abortion to the Libyan attack on the U.S. embassy and whether Americans or local soldiers should be patrolling specific regions of Afghanistan. What it did not touch on – and neither did last week’s first presidential debate – was the issue of immigration, which has been such an integral part of the Republican primary race as well as the general presidential race, and a factor constantly brought up when discussing the growing Latino electorate. And while yesterday’s debate spent a lot of time on Middle East foreign policy, regional issues with Latin America were not mentioned.
“Immigration has appeared nowhere,” says Stanford University political scientist and Latino Decisions principal Gary Segura. Segura says one reason could be the debate formats have not allowed it, “but if I were a Democratic candidate, I would bring it up,” says Segura. A Pew Hispanic poll released yesterday finds nearly nine-in-ten (89 percent) of Latinos support Obama’s deferred action policy. A Latino Decisions poll found a signficant bump in support for President Obama after the policy was announced in June.
“At this point, I would bring up immigration in a debate if I were a Democrat, especially if there is a concern about an enthusiasm gap for Latinos,” adds Segura. ”The Republicans are sure as heck not going to bring it up,” says Segura.
“It was interesting, and I believe unfortunate,” says Shannon K. O’Neil, Senior Fellow for Latin American Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. ”You saw the candidates appeal to senior citizens, and to women at the end, but it’s somehow surprising that Latinos have such a potential to choose the next President, and yet there was no appeal to this community,” O’Neil says.
“I was not surprised at all by this,” says Julia Sweig, the Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “These issues are not front and center for many, even though these connect in terms of the Latino population in the U.S,” Sweig says. She adds that it was not just the omission on the part of the candidates, but the moderator, Martha Raddatz, too. While there are valid issues on how the U.S. continues its diplomatic and trade relationships with Latin America and how it relates to the governments of Cuba and Venezuela on foreign policy, or energy, for example, Sweig says “there is an institutional, cultural bias that is deeply ingrained across the board in foreign policy circles” toward putting other regions in the forefront, as occurred last night.
O’Neil says the demographic realities of U.S Latinos – as well as the nation as a whole – call for addressing issues of immigration, as well as trade. ”On immigration, there are so many families of mixed status, the issue of an undocumented Latino or someone applying for the Dream Act does not just affect one individual, but relatives, friends,” she explains. O’Neil adds that demographic trends, such as the aging of the Baby Boomers combined with population decline, will mean we will be talking about needing increased immigration anyway, especially as the economy continues its recovery.
That, says O’Neil, combined with the fact the Mexican population is also decreasing, making older arguments about Mexican immigration patterns inaccurate, reflects a need to have a continuing debate of how we fill our workforce in the next few decades, she says. On trade and jobs, O’Neil says Mexico is our second-largest destination for U.S. goods, so issues of trade and employment should be up for discussion. As the globalization of production becomes more of a reality, explains O’Neil, “it’s worth noting that 40 percent of products ‘made in Mexico’ coming into the U.S. have components which are made in the U.S., compared with 4 percent of Chinese products,” making the issue of trade with Mexico more relevant to the conversation on U.S. jobs, she says.
Antonio González, president of the William C. Velázquez Institute, was pretty blunt in his assessment on why immigration and Latin American foreign policy were not mentioned in the previous debates.
“American foreign policy is Middle East foreign policy, that is not a new thing,” says González. ”And on immigration, the parties have done polling, and they know the polling data on the issue is mixed for non-Latinos,” he says.
González says, however, immigration is an important issue in the battleground states, “and I really think it’s going to come up in the next debate – it has to,” he says.