One of the failures of big media regarding the selection of Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s running mate is not examining the implications for the Latino vote. Latinos are the largest ethnic voting block and are 40% of the population of California, the state she represents in the Senate.
California is a microcosm of what is happening throughout the country, with Latinos representing more than 18% of the population and projected to be 120 million by 2060. Her California experience with Latinos, therefore, can be helpful in attracting Latino support and suggest policies she may advocate as Vice President.
Her Latino ties are not new. In 2014, as California Attorney General, she keynoted the annual conference of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the nation’s oldest and largest Latino civil rights organization, endorsed her.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who succeeded Harris, has been very complimentary about her views and actions with regard to Latinos. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla similarly responded very favorably to her selection. María Teresa Kumar, president of Voto Latino, and an old friend of Harris, also responded enthusiastically to her selection.
Critics, however, say that Harris did not use her influence sufficiently to protect the rights of Latinos and Latin American immigrants. Nor, they say, did she do enough to contain law enforcement abuses. Nonetheless, given the overwhelming positive response to her selection, given her association with Latinos and Latino leaders in California, the expectation should be that Harris will advocate for justice and equality under the law for Latinos and all Americans.
Success stories abound about Latinos and Kamala. For example, in 2011, she sued a truck company for dumping garbage in a town that is overwhelming Latino. Residents were getting sick from the pollution. In 2012, when a foreclosure scam targeted Latinos, Harris intervened and had the two scammers arrested.
In 2013, she sued and won a $1.1 billion settlement against a for-profit college predatory scheme. Latinos were most affected by the scheme because they attend these colleges at a high rate. Education, furthermore, is extremely important to Latinos. In 2016, Kamala released a Truancy Report in Spanish because she wanted to ensure that Latinos understood the severity and consequences of absenteeism in the community.
Harris worked on legislation to guarantee access to legal counsel for detainees attempting to enter the U.S. This included having food, water and even access to toilets. In 2014, she issued a consumer alert on scams targeting Latino immigrants. People were taking advantage of vulnerable Latinos who were seeking help with immigration services. For example, they charged immigrants to complete their applications.
Another issue important to her are unaccompanied minors who travel to the U.S. In 2015, Kamala convened a roundtable with international law firms and immigration advocates to discuss the possibility of providing legal aid to these unaccompanied minors who mostly came from Central America.
The big media —and so many others— focus on her ethnic background and skills honed as a prosecutor and attorney general. But there is another angle that will be important in this election. Kamala knows Latinos and their issues. She has long been an advocate for the Latino community. She is not playing “politics.” She wants to address the needs of that community and all Americans.
Elizabeth Roldán is a freelance writer who focuses on Latino, Black and women’s issues. She has a B.A. in Political Science from Binghamton University and studied Communications at Georgetown University. She is originally from the Bronx and lives in Harlem, NY. She tweets from @elizabethsrold.