The fact that he was vice president of Barack Obama is an obstacle to the relations of the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden with the Hispanic electorate, a sector that could be crucial to winning the White House.
For many Latinos, Biden reminds them of how the former president expelled some 3 million people who were illegally in the United States, earning him the nickname of “deporter-in-chief.”
That’s why, among other reasons, the overwhelming majority of Latinos supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. But now that the Vermont senator has left the race and Biden remains as a virtual candidate, Hispanics are facing a terrifying alternative. They can ignore Biden’s record and vote for him, or they can abstain and risk four more years of the presidency for Donald Trump, who this week signed a decree freezing part of immigration to the country during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The ‘let’s get back to things as they were before’ is not very attractive for people who live with the feeling of having a boot on their neck,” said Marisa Franco, director, and co-founder of the activist group Mijente, who in her first foray into politics Electoral supported Sanders’ candidacy.
The Obama administration carried out the deportations in order to demonstrate that it took law enforcement seriously while waiting for Congress to pass a reform of the immigration system. But among the deportees, there was a high proportion of people without criminal records, although the government insisted that its intention was to expel criminals from the country.
Finally, Obama understood that Congress would not act and changed tactics by expanding legal protections for young immigrants through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which is still facing lawsuits in federal courts.
For a long time, Biden defended the Obama administration’s immigration policy, and told an activist in South Carolina who deplored deportations, “You should vote for Trump.” But on the eve of losing primary school in Nevada, a state with a large Hispanic population, Biden acknowledged that “it took too long to get things right.”
“I think it was a big mistake,” said Biden.
Domingo García, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said that many “in the most liberal wing of the Latino community” view the issue as “a litmus test of something they don’t forget.” But many activists say that is less important than Trump’s racism.
Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an influential voice in the party’s progressive wing, has said she will vote for Biden in November, though she has urged him to pay more attention to Hispanic issues. Sanders has backed Biden and asked his loyal base to back the former vice president to ensure Trump’s defeat.
The Republican president has not changed his position on immigration, which he considers crucial to motivate his base. His most recent decree guarantees that immigration will almost certainly be one of the key issues ahead of the elections.
The Trump government has deported some 267,260 people in the fiscal year 2019, well below the record of 410.00 that Obama deported in 2012. But now there are far more people incarcerated while their cases are being heard in court and have been sent to 60,000 back to Mexico to await the same process.
“Our community certainly understands and knows the consequences of having Trump as president,” said Laura Jiménez, director of relations with the Latino community for the Biden campaign. “Our lives, our security, the possibility of prospering, and gaining acceptance in this country are at stake in this election.”
Some 32 million Hispanics will be able to vote in November, 13.3% of the electorate. For the first time, they will overtake African Americans as the first minority bloc, according to the Pew Research Center.
Biden will shortly select her running mate, and prominent Latin figures such as Michelle Luján Grisham, governor of New Mexico, and Catherine Cortez Masto, the senator from Nevada, appear among the candidates.