Before President Trump declared the national health emergency due to the coronavirus, the political races were marching as they always do during a national election year. Just a week and a half earlier, I had questioned whether Latinos could jump on the Biden bandwagon based on his lengthy policy and legislative history (and Latino voters strong showing for Bernie Sanders). Today, all that seems ancient history. Joe Biden is the presumptive nominee for the Democratic party and President Trump is the Republican party’s nominee. Later this month, both candidates will be virtually delivering their respective party nomination speeches. If Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden are interested in the Latino vote, they will have to speak to the issues that matter to Latinos.
According to the latest UnidosUS survey, the top issues of concern to Latino voters are jobs and the economy, healthcare, immigration, and education. So, let us look at the choice Latinos will have in the November presidential election based on the candidates’ words and deeds on those priority issues.
In the bandwagon piece, I raised a number of issues that at the time I considered problematic for Biden in the primaries, immigration healthcare, and the federal minimum wage. Since then, Biden has addressed those and others in Joe Biden’s Agenda and the Latino Community.
On immigration, while the Obama/Biden Administration did not deliver on some issues that were Latino priorities, it is important to put that into context. Early in the first term, the Obama/Biden Administration used all its political capital to pass the Affordable Care Act and increase health care coverage for all Americans, a priority that had eluded various previous presidents, but an issue that expanded coverage to millions of Latinos nationwide. In 2010, two years after a historic turnout for the Obama election, Latino voters stayed home for the mid-terms. Republicans took over the U.S. House of Representatives, became emboldened, and promised to be the party of opposition and limit President Obama to be a one-term president.
So while partisan rancor made it impossible to find commonsense solutions to national problems, the Obama/Biden Administration supported TPS, put DACA in place, and made significant investments in Central America to stabilize the region, dissipate the violence and economic uncertainty that force people to migrate to the United States.
When the Obama/Biden Administration took office, the nation was reeling from the housing and financial collapse. In 2009, the Latino unemployment rate stood at 12.1%. As the economy steadily grew and measures were put in place to avoid predation in financial markets, millions of jobs were created, and the Latino unemployment rate was reduced by more than half. By January 2017, when the Obama/Biden Administration turned the country over to the Trump Administration, Latino unemployment was at a low 5.8% and continuing to drop.
Today, candidate Biden has put forward a set of policy proposals that address the top concerns for Latinos across the country and restore sanity to the presidency. And although he is often criticized for his oratory blunders, he has never intentionally referred to Latinos, immigrants, Mexicans, or Salvadorans, as criminals, rapists, or coming from “shithole countries.” He is open to diversity, seeks to inform himself, and engage subject matter experts in policymaking. On immigration, he supports a path to citizenship for eleven million undocumented immigrants, DACA, TPS, extending TPS to Venezuelans and others escaping repression. He supports raising the federal minimum wage to $15, improving access to healthcare by expanding Medicaid and adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act. He supports education K-12, higher education and vocational training and certification. Biden hits all the right notes on the Latino priority list.
As the Vice President, Joe Biden did not achieve all those things during the Obama presidency. However, he was part of the team that made it happen. He was part of an administration that sought to unite us, move the nation forward, and has earned the chance to restore America’s reputation around the world.
Conversely, the Trump Administration has been persecuting, incarcerating, and torturing immigrants and refugees, including children; fighting in federal court all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court to cancel the DACA and TPS programs; terrorizing immigrant families through immigration raids; declaring the country of my birth —El Salvador— and others “shitholes.” Individually and collectively, these actions by Trump devalue the lives and contributions that naturalized citizens like me and immigrants in general make to our nation.
Trump and the Republicans have also been fighting in federal court all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court and in Congress to revoke the Affordable Care Act, thereby pushing tens of millions of people off health insurance rolls in the midst of a health pandemic. Trump’s agency appointees at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have been deregulating financial markets and opening the doors to predation in consumer lending, home lending, and other financial markets. Trump’s Housing and Urban Development Secretary is busy dismantling racial and ethnic discrimination protections in housing. Trump’s Education Secretary is aggressively pushing for the reopening of in-person K-12 schools and suspending student debt relief programs for people saddled with college student debt. All these measures are regressive and heighten low- and middle-income families’ vulnerabilities at a time when they struggle to stay afloat during the recession brought on by the coronavirus. Finally, it cannot be ignored that from the moment Trump came down the escalator to announce his presidential bid, he began othering Mexicans and immigrants in general. He does not blow a racist dog whistle; he directs a whole orchestra and international marketing campaign on it.
This year’s coronavirus crisis gave the Trump Administration an opportunity to lead; instead, he abdicated his responsibility, led our nation right into a deep recession, and reversed all the gains made by Latinos. State governors and local leaders have had to fend for themselves to navigate the COVID-19 crisis. And as the virus spreads out of control, American lives are lost to the disease. Latinos are among the most severely impacted by the pandemic; they represent 18.5 percent of the U.S. population, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention they represent 34 percent of all COVID-19 cases. In Virginia, where I reside, Latinos represent 9.6% of the state’s population, but account for nearly half of all COVID-19 cases. So, when the president mismanages the coronavirus pandemic and dismisses it by saying “It is what it is,” he is writing off Latinos and their families. When the president threatens school systems across the country with withdrawing federal dollars if schools do not open for in-person teaching, he is willing to risk the health and lives of millions of Latino children, teachers, administrators, and other school staff and their families without providing the appropriate resources necessary to preserve health and life.
President Trump has led our nation right into a pandemic-led recession. When he took office, Latino unemployment was at a historic low and dropping. Today, nearly 13% of Latinos in the workforce are unemployed and facing the highest health risks and financial insecurity. In late July, Brookings reported that 29% of Latino families have experienced job and income losses; 33% of business owning Latino parents/caregivers have either shut down their businesses or seen significant loss of revenue; 41% of Latino parents/caregivers are having trouble paying rent or their mortgage; and 52% of Latino parents/caregivers have had their work hours or pay cut. Yet, Trump is set on providing relief to his corporate friends and his own businesses through payroll tax-cuts and safe harbor from liability.
Most recently, the Trump Administration announced that it will end all Census 2020 counting efforts by September 30, a month earlier than previously announced. And, late in July, Trump issued a memorandum barring undocumented immigrants from being counted in the Census for the purposes of apportionment that would determine the size of state Congressional delegations and representation in the U.S. House of Representatives. Furthermore, population size, as determined by the Census, allocates national funding resources to states to defray the cost of public services. Therefore, an inaccurate Census stands to hurt us all.
The Trump Administration is essentially dismissing the U.S. Constitution’s call for an accurate decennial count of all people. With its declaration and the president’s memorandum, the Trump Administration is effectively attempting to rob communities of color, immigrants, and other difficult-to-reach populations of their humanity, agency, and dignity as integral members of American society.
The United States of America is a nation of immigrants; those who came to our shores voluntarily seeking freedom from persecution; those who were kidnapped and forcefully brought here through enslavement and bled upon our soil while they built it; and those who through the coerced circumstances of more recent historical events have sought refuge and sanctuary in this place we call home. All of us are seeking equity of opportunity, a fair shot at the American dream, the dream of building a better life for ourselves and for our families. Any declaration and memorandum seeking to undermine the humanity of all persons who reside in these United States is evidence of Constitutional ignorance on the part of this administration. It is a xenophobic and discriminatory act seeking to divide us and to devalue the lives of people of color, immigrants, and others hard-to-reach populations among us. An inaccurate Census undermines our democracy and the lives of all who dwell in the United States by providing less than necessary resources to all states.
Latino voters have a choice to make in the November election. They can vote for the current tyrannical occupant of the White House. Or they can come out for the candidate that most closely aligns with their concerns. Based on the evidence and the rhetoric, there is only one presidential candidate willing to count and recognize all of us as valued members of our great nation. Joe Biden is the only one on the ballot with the moral fiber and vision to unite and lead all of us. That is why I personally decided to get on the bandwagon and help Joe Biden make our nation live up to its promise of a better and more inclusive United States. All Latinos should get on board.
Aracely Panameño is a national health, civil rights, and consumer protection advocate. She resides in Prince William County, VA, and is a member of the Todos con Biden Virginia Committee, a volunteer organization of Latino leaders not affiliated with the Biden campaign. She is available via Twitter at @panamenoaracely.