Latinos’ Skin Tone & Republican Partisanship

In a recent article Professor Spencer Piston analyzed the association between Latinos’ skin tone and four forms of Republican partisanship: degree of identification as a Republican (ranging from “Strong Republican” to “Strong Democrat,” that is, “Weak Republican”) as well as voting Republican in the 2012 Presidential, House and Senate elections.

Professor Piston presents evidence that the lighter their skin tone, the more likely is their support of the four forms of Republican partisanship.

The prizing of light skin is an old component of the US White Racial Frame. It was also present in the old Spanish racial frame in the Southwest, where Spanish light skin was valued over “Indian” dark complexion. Thus Latinos have been exposed to two different white racial frames.

Immigration has been a vibrant issue in the last few years. Some light-skinned Latinos, possibly affected by both racial frames as well as cognizant of the white elite’s deprecatory views of “dark illegals,” might want to distance themselves from the latter. But their reaction is not just bigotry: light skinned Latinos enjoy a higher socioeconomic position than their dark counterparts.

And it is to their advantage to support Republicans, who invariably look after the better off.

It would be incorrect to attribute support for the Republican Party among Latinos just to skin color. Latinos who oppose left-leaning politicians in the US and Latin America tend to favor Republican administrations’ hard line against such politicians. Whatever the reason, these Latinos should not forget that they favor a Republican party that would not hesitate to end its support if it benefited white elites.

““Tiempo de acabar el Embargo de Cuba”: It’s Time to End the Cuban Embargo

A recent New York Times editorial denunciated the unproductive 54-year old United States embargo against Cuba and exhorted President Obama to end it. The editorial’s publication is not remarkable because the same argument has been made before in the media. What is unusual is that a second click will take the reader to a Spanish translation.

Shortly afterward Fidel Castro wrote a column in Granma, a Cuban newspaper, analyzing in detail the Times’ editorial [[l]]. The New York Times, in turn, ran an opinion page about Fidel’s column. It also appeared in Spanish translation. In the past few days I’ve been pondering the significance of the New York Times’ bilingual columns. They are a step in the right direction because they seem to recognize the validity of Spanish, which is the language with the second largest number of speakers in the US.

Cuban Embargo Political Cartoon

(Image source)

I should note, however, that all of the bilingual New York Times’ columns I mentioned pertain to just Latin American issues, which some may see as a reflection of the common perception that Spanish is not “American.” Moreover, the publication of Spanish columns in a major newspaper can give the false impression that the racialized status of Spanish in the United States is crumbling. That is not the case.

Spanish is still racialized because its speakers are still racialized and there are no indications that their status is changing.

Democracy & American DREAMers: DACA & Undocumented Latino Youth

Immigration—particularly undocumented immigration—continues to be an unresolved issue in America; however, it is part of the larger unresolved issue of the political and social inclusion of Latinos (as well as other visible racial and ethnic groups) in the U.S. It is an issue that will increasingly affect us all because of our changing demographics with Latinos at 16.9 percent of the population projected to be 30 percent of the population by 2050 at the latest.

This lack of inclusion is underscored in a new book my coauthors, Jessica L. Lavariega Monforti and Melissa R. Michelson and I recently published which looks at the experiences of undocumented Latino youth who have been raised in the U.S., but because of the inability of our political leaders to pass immigration reform dealing with even the seemingly straightforward aspects of the issue—namely, how to incorporate and legalize Latino youth who have grown up in the U.S—their lives have been severely limited at every turn. In our book we systematically examine the experiences faced by undocumented Latino youth based on in-depth interviews conducted immediately after President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in the summer of 2012. Through 101 interviews conducted in California, Texas, Washington, and Oregon we learn the effects of living in the U.S without the “nine-digit number” (Social Security number). We learn how living as undocumented youth has impacted their decisions after completing high school, their political socialization and self-identity, and their feelings of trust and confidence in our government, and even their personal and intimate relationships.

Regardless of their geographic location, the sample of DREAMers in our book all experienced life with a greater sense of fear, vulnerability, lack of freedom, and obstacles. It was felt while they were shopping, traveling, driving, or in one case, serving as a university student body president who was “outed” and had his life turned upside down. In some cases, their unauthorized status even affected their willingness to call the police if someone had been in a car accident. Living as an undocumented Latino youth in the United States is, even post-DACA (which provides some measure of protection from deportation) as one of our respondents stated, “not full freedom.” Similar to the experiences of immigrants in the past, our sample of DREAMers is affected by the white racial frame in that they are racialized targets at every turn. This racialization places greater limitations on all aspects of their lives. As one of our respondents states,

[B]eing an illegal immigrant shapes who you are, . . . when you’re growing up, like what you become and . . . how you act and whatnot.

Listening to the stories of our sample of DREAMers, we learn about the lives of hardworking, good kids who have grown up in America seeking to achieve the American dream like everyone else. Some always knew they were undocumented, but not quite what it meant; others first learned as teenagers. Just as they were trying, like other teenagers around them, to assert their independence – to go away to college, to get a first job, to learn to drive – they find themselves stopped in their tracks by a system that relegates them to the margins because they are undocumented.

Based on this research, if we truly hope to have a democracy, then we must have the wisdom and the tenacity to continually seek ways to improve our society by extending the promise of America’s most cherished principles to the DREAMers. Latino youth are our future and there will be no real democracy for any future Americans without the political and social incorporation of Latinos. Similarly to the pre-Civil War South and through the 1960’s where nearly half of the population was legally oppressed by the other, an America where one third of the youth entering their voting age, their legal working age, or college age either are excluded from the body politics or are suspected of not belonging to the body politic, democracy is crippled or false. As Douglas S. Massey states,

[T]he most serious task remaining for immigration reformers is the legalization of the 11 million persons who are currently unauthorized, especially the 3 million or more persons who entered as minors and grew up in the United States. The lack of legal status constitutes an insurmountable barrier to social and economic mobility, not only for the undocumented immigrants themselves, but for their citizen family members. Not since the days of slavery have so many residents in the United States lacked the most basic social, economic, and human rights.

The U.S.’s founding values of “establishing justice” or the “blessing of liberty” currently does not apply to 5 million Latino youth who are just kids trying to be kids in the only country they’ve ever known.

If we make a commitment to DREAMers through humane immigration policy such as passage of the DREAM Act, our entire society will be enriched by not only the economic and cultural benefits that they will bestow upon American society, but because we will stop undermining our democratic values through the continual exclusion of undocumented Latino youth who have so much to contribute to society, if only they are allowed to. As one undocumented young woman
we interviewed states:

We are members of this society whether people acknowledge it or not, but we continue to be discriminated against, marginalized and “othered.” We experience rejection on a daily basis, and although we continue to overcome barrier after barrier, it is not a way of life that any person should have to experience. We are talented individuals who want to be able to give back to our communities. Why does legislation continue to prevent us from doing so? Why let our skills go to waste? Why not use them to improve this nation? This problem is much bigger than people want to acknowledge. . . . [W]e are human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

As we document in our book, all of the DREAMers we spoke to recognized that their immigration status had had powerful impacts on their lives.

And yet, as we found time and again in our research, they keep on dreaming as underscored by one of our respondents:

Well, whatever is within my reach I’m going to do it. After I finish my bachelor’s and continue my master’s, and if possible go into the PhD program; if not, I’ll set up a business as I have a business already, so keep going and make it bigger. I won’t stop. If there’s something in my way I’ll just go another way.

Spanish in the US: Racialization (Part II)

Victorious intruders often justify their actions by playing up their self-defined probity vis-à-vis the supposed wickedness of their victims. White settlers in the 19th Century Southwest were no exception: they held an undisguised contempt for Mexican citizens residing in the region. Their attitude was couched in the language of race and they referred to Mexicans as “niggers” and mongrels.

One of the “racial” traits that “tainted” Mexicans was their language. In the aftermath of the 1848 Mexican-American War, the eradication of Spanish became an important goal of whites in power. They started early in a person’s life. To “divest” Mexican children of their racial baggage, the elimination of Spanish was pursued avidly in schools.

In 1929 some Mexican Americans in Corpus Christi, Texas, decided that to improve their lot they would succeed in areas in which they were supposedly deficient. To this end, they founded the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), restricting membership to US citizens and emphasizing English-language skills. Predictably, their efforts were insufficient to penetrate staunch racist barriers. : LULAC members and their mother language remained racialized.

The efforts to squelch Spanish extended well into the 20th Century. They included the portrayal of Spanish as an intruder in English’s linguistic realm. Harvard luminaries Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Huntington (2004) were among the proponents of this perspective. Schlesinger said unequivocally that “The language of the new nation [US] . . . [is] primarily derived from Britain.”

In a similar vein, the Huntington asserted that

America’s culture … is still primarily the culture of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century settlers who founded American society. The central elements of that culture … include . . . the English language.

There is overwhelming evidence that the “establishment” still favors the hegemony of English. However, white economic and political elites have been forced to relent in their “monoglot” policies, not so much as a gesture of sympathy toward Latinos but as a necessity for these elites to pursue Latino votes and markets.

Spanish in the U.S.: A “Respectable” Language (Part I)

References to Spanish in the US tend to evoke memories of Latinos’ racist oppression. However, there was a time in the early days of this country when Spanish was regarded by important whites as a “respectable” language.

Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson wrote about the importance of Spanish to the US. In a document he penned outlining his ideas about the education of youth in Pennsylvania, Franklin recommended that young men interested in business should consider the study of Spanish!.

Jefferson’s admiration for Spanish is evident in this passage: “With respect to modern languages . . . Spanish is most important to an American . . .” One scholars notes, “His interest in Spanish was instrumental in its incorporation into the curriculum of William and Mary in 1780″ (Madeline Wallis Nichols)

Franklin’s and Jefferson’s positive view was shared by other members of the elite then. For example, a Puritan divine, Cotton Mather, found in Spanish an important tool to spread the “Christian” message to Spanish-American Catholics. In 1699 Mather wrote a pamphlet in Spanish, La fe del Christiano, hoping to convert them “from Darkness to Light,” that is, from the Catholic faith to Protestantism.

There was an early demand for private instruction in Spanish. In 1747 the New York Gazette announced the establishment of an Academy where Augustus Vaughn taught several languages, including Spanish, “correctly and expeditiously.” In 1773 another New Yorker, Anthony Fiva, advertised instruction in Romance languages, including Spanish, “in their greatest purity.” (Seybolt).

Instruction in Spanish began at the college level in the 18th Century. It was offered at major colleges and universities such as Pennsylvania (1750), Dickinson (1814) , Yale (1826), Princeton (1830) and Amherst (1827). However, the great prestige of Spanish instruction at the university level did not reach its peak until 1816 with the establishment of the Smith Professorship of the French and Spanish Languages and Literature at Harvard (Spell).

As US expansionism grew, however, the esteemed status of Spanish turned into contempt as white settlers moved to Texas and the US seized Mexican territory after the conclusion of the US-Mexican war. Conquering whites made the squelching of Spanish a central component of their takeover. Their strategy was familiar in history: to break a people, you dispossess them of such an important part of their lives as language. Their justification was simple: the language of an inferior race was necessarily an inferior language. Thus began the racialization of Spanish in the US.

Latino Disunity: On Obama’s Delaying Executive Order for Immigrants

In her insightful book, The Trouble With Unity, Cristina Beltrán highlights the intolerance to dissent found in the 1960’s and 70’s Chicano and Puerto Rican Movements, especially with regards to gender issues. This intolerance to debate within the movements weakened the democratic nature of the groups where as Beltrán states, “Disagreement is treated as a pathology” (p. 46). She goes on to say, “In the politics of unity, someone or something must be found and blamed for divisions and disagreements” (p. 46). Are we seeing some of this again in the recent attacks on prominent Latino leaders and activists such as Dolores Huerta who have chosen not to come down hard on President Obama for his Democratic-party-pressured decision to wait until after the November elections to issue any more executive orders on immigration in order to keep the Senate under Democratic control?

In a recent article on the National Institute for Latino Policy a number of authors state:

On the whole, Obama’s Latino defenders all have a financial stake in his regime. They are all recipients of largesse either from the administration directly or through his party or allied private foundations. They belong to the corrupt patronage system and have gladly accepted their proverbial role as house peons who run to save the master’s burning house faster than the master himself. The most immoral observation about their behavior is the lack of transparency about their personal moneyed interests and positions as they implicitly defend massive deportations of historic dimension.

This intolerance to dissent is reminiscent of calls of “traitor” or “sell-out” found in the 1960s and 1970s Latino movements as highlighted by Beltrán.

It is one thing to differ on strategy, approach, and timing of politics. However, not to recognize that there could be differences in approach is short-sighted at best and an excellent strategy for the Republican party at worst.

The Latino community is bigger than ever in U.S. history and our numbers have reached a tipping point whereby Latino issues are prominent issues in the national debate. Latinos have always been from diverse national origins tracing back to many different Latin American countries with different historical experiences in the U.S. as John A. Garcia notes in his book on Latino Politics.

While we also share important common denominators such as the experience of discrimination and lack of inclusion in the U.S. as Feagin and Cobas describe, these subgroup differences are large enough to generate diverse policy interests or at the least differences in strategy. So, it should come as no surprise that there are issues where there is dissent between Latino groups and that is only going to become more frequent.

Intolerance to dissenting views by leaders of Latino organizations seems very out-of-touch, and ultimately very unproductive. Notions of unity in a group (that will soon comprise 20 percent of the electorate) that are intolerant to political dissent will condemn us to a fringe of insignificance. When Latinos are finally having an influence on national elections and therefore eventually on public policy, do we really want to start calling each other “peons” if we disagree with each other? Instead, what we need is to take an adaptable, big-tent approach to building an enduring, influential political coalition in the United States. This is one way to make Latino politics matter in the future.

Puerto Ricans: Mythologizing Reality and US Hegemony

Puerto Ricans are lazy, filthy, thieves, parasites. They expect everything to be handed to them. They are dumb people who have no initiative or talent. They lack discipline and a sense of responsibility. They love to party. They hate their compatriots: [they say that] the island is sinking, losing its population and coming apart.(Translated from Spanish.)

Who in the world would utter such diatribes against Puerto Ricans: White supremacists? The Ku Klux Klan? Not really.

According to Benjamín Torres Gotay, a Puerto Rican journalist writing in San Juan’s Spanish language El Nuevo Día, it’s Puerto Rican themselves. Torres asserts that these beliefs represent a campaign carried out by people who are convinced that the solution to Puerto Rico’s problems is statehood. Because Puerto Ricans are by nature incapable of taking care of themselves, it is claimed, the US would step in and solve the problems of its 51st state.

Puerto Rico’s problems, Torres asserts, are rooted in a system that grew out of Puerto Rico’s dependence on the US. “Laziness” is due to the lack of decent jobs, “ignorance” grows out of a disastrous school system, and “lacking in initiative” is the result of a deeply embedded popular notion that Puerto Ricans need US help to take care of things.

We may add that the Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci pointed out that after long inculcation such myths penetrate the average individuals’ psyche and become an unquestioned “commonsense.” Gramsci denominated this state of affairs “hegemony.” All colonies suffer from this “hegemony.”

To Torres’ penetrating accounting of the root causes of Puerto Rico’s maladies we need to add racism. Anti-Latino racism is part and parcel of US culture. In the halls of Congress, no less, Latinos have been called inferior mixtures of Spanish, Indian and Black stock, or “mongrels.” The US is not sympathetic to people of “other” races (that is those who are not white) and consequently unlikely to hold a benevolent view of Puerto Rico.

The racist message has become a component of Puerto Rican commonsense. It teaches that as an “other race,” Puerto Ricans have no one to blame but themselves for their problems. This is an ironic twist: exploit a people and blame their race for the consequences of their exploitation.

Signs of Racism: “Save Our Country Close Our Borders”

Recent Central American migration has generated numerous protests across the U.S. Yet this backlash differs because the primary targets of white anti-immigrant sentiment are Guatemalan, Salvadorian, and Honduran children. This humanitarian crisis and the subsequent relocation of undocumented families to various border patrol stations and detention centers has led to significant increases in anti-immigrant and anti-Latina/o rallies and demonstrations. The protest signs reveal a hodgepodge of political, economic, patriotic, and emotional reactions as evidenced in the following pictures below.

SaveOurBorders

(Image source)

Although the protestors vary in the messages they seek to convey, here I focus on four themes (1) health (2) taxes (3) illegal/legal status and (4) children. Moreover, the protest signs are often accompanied with crude attempts at humor as a way to further denigrate Latinas/os. An informal examination of the white protester’s signs and banners reveals a common connection, the racialization of Latinas/os and the reinforcement of white supremacy. All the pictures except for one were collected through various online news articles using the search terms “immigrant protest.”

BoycottMexico UR_Tax
Dumping NoAmnesty

(Image sources, clockwise from top left:
Times of San Diego, Syracuse.com, MagicValley Times-News, and Syracuse.com).

 

Health: Mainstream U.S. society has treated undocumented and documented Latina/o immigrants as foreign piranha eager to devour jobs and overrun communities. Over time immigrants have been wrongly portrayed as plights on the system draining public services, specifically the health care system.

Rising hospital costs, overcrowded emergency rooms, and increased diseases, have been some of the common historical and contemporary ailments undeservingly blamed on Latina/o immigrants. Yet, the overwhelmingly white protestors continue to attack Latinas/os by operating out of the white racial frame.

Within this worldview an anti-Latina/o health perspective emerges. For instance, the following white oppressive sign “Save our children from diseases” (image below) refers to the stereotype that Latina/o immigrant children are unhealthy, unclean, sickly, and dirty. The presence of immigrant children threatens the health status of white American children (read the future of whites), therefore, as the argument goes Central American immigrants need to be removed or eliminated in order to preserve the health status of white children.

FreePass

(Image source)

Another sign reads, “Stop Diseases Crossing Our Border” and the message is clear. Central American children are viewed as a danger to white health and therefore should be removed before they infect white children. This health hysteria harkens back to public health campaigns steeped in xenophobia (see, Shah Contagious Divides). The fact that it continues today, speaks to the continuing power of white xenophobia and white racism.

The final health related protest sign “Thousands of American veterans die waiting for medical care, free medical care for illegals” (see below) underscores a blatant attempt to utilize health as a weapon of fear. The white protestors falsely attribute the death of American veterans to the medical expenses and increased waiting periods generated by Latinas/os. Invoking veterans is an attempt to utilize patriotism as a mechanism to solicit outrage and thus support, yet none of these claims are substantiated with actual data.

MedicalCare

(Image source)

Taxes: Historically, immigrants have been falsely represented as disease carriers in order to justify exclusion and control. But, exclusion from what? Well according to protestors, from economic and social support. This uninformed and inherently racist perspective interlocks both health and taxes to delegitimize the prospect of citizenship “Our tax $ for u!!! Hell no, go home”. Despite the fact that undocumented immigrants pay more into the system than they receive. Another protestor perpetuates the myth that immigrants drain public services by reframing the issue around illegality and criminality “UR TAX $ 4 Illegals” (see image above).

The protestors’ misconceived argument regarding taxes and Latino/a immigrants goes something like this:  “As an American, I believe that the immigrant children should go back to their country immediately. I do not want to spend my money nor the government’s resources on immigrant children because they are illegal.” These misinformed views and statements fail to contextualize the complexity of the situation. These particular slogans do not capture the forces that have shaped present day Central America, particularly the role of the US in perpetuating war in such places as Guatemala and the subsequent legacies of poverty and violence; and thus migration.

Legal/Illegal: The law is used to mask the dehumanization of Latina/o immigrants while also failing to consider the dire circumstances which led to the children’s precarious situation. For example, “U.S. citiens don’t get free pass y should ileagels” (see image below) and “We Immigrated Legally! Please do the same”. Despite the spelling and grammar, these arguments do not consider the historically racist immigration policies the U.S. has placed on people of color. Immigration policies have worked to exclude and control non-whites rather than incorporate them into U.S. society. Furthermore, similar to “American” the synonym “We” stands for whites. We followed the law, we are good law-abiding citizens, whereas these children are criminals “illegals” this rhetoric creates a familiar “us versus them” scenario.

 

Legally

(Image source)

Children: The protestors also use comedy as a way to belittle and degrade the immigrant children, for example, “No vacancy try the white house” and “The White House Called: Obama & Michele are waiting for you there… They love children!”  “Return to sender” and “Agents: Secure Our Border Not Change Diapers”. However, underlining the sarcasm is another hateful and racist attempt to demean Central American children. The first two protest signs unrealistically suggest that the white house and by extension the Obamas can be an alternative housing option for the children. The white house acts as a symbolic site for failed immigration policy and the misplaced fear that the protestors’ own homes will be occupied by menacing foreigners, as expressed by this sign “Breaking into MY House Doesn’t Give you the Right to Stay NO Amnesty!”. The racist protestors blame Obama and the white house as the source of the perceived immigration problem. In addition, the protestor’s white privilege affords them the ability to feel mistreated, yet propose unrealistic solutions.

The protestors shamelessly deflect the problem by calling for the children to be sent to Washington, DC “Tired of the lies! Bus the kids to the White House!”. The white protestors rehash the hurtful images and experiences of desegregated school busing. Busing children of color has been a consistent theme in the struggle for racial equality and a reality all too familiar for Blacks and other People of Color. It is in this vein that the irrationality of the protestors comes to light; Obama can deal with the children first hand and then perhaps deportation efforts will be expedited. But it is hard to believe that the kids themselves are the central issue, especially when the protestors expel messages of impeachment and securing the border, as in this sign, this one and this one.

The concern over the moving of displaced immigrant children into their communities caused intense panic among many of the protestors, “What about our kids?! Keep our kids safe”.The call for self-preservation is based on an anti-immigrant ideology that demonizes Latinas/os. The white racial framing of Latina/o immigrants is particularly troubling in this case because the children are thrust into circumstances that are beyond their control.

BusKids

(Image source)

The white anti-immigration protestors rely on the stereotypical about disease carriers, arguments loosely based on legality, and the familiar, convoluted tax angle. The protestors use banners, signs, exclamation points, puns, innuendos, sarcasm, and humor to hammer their point and enhance their hate speech. White privilege, self-preservation, and fear, fuel anti-immigrant supporters in their effort to degrade children who have desperately fled from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The protest pictures are also shrouded in nationalistic fervor; almost every picture has a US flag or clothing, likening securing the border to patriotic duty. The systemic nature of white supremacy works to exclude and deport Latinas/os while simultaneously reproducing inequalities and sustaining racial oppression; as a result, whites are able to rationalize the sentiment “Save Our Country Close Our Borders.”

Meanwhile, the families of undocumented Central Americans wait in facilities that resemble prisons, while elected officials refuse to make any progress towards the dignity of innocent children.

ImmigrationAmerican

(Image source)

Perhaps the anti-immigration protestors can learn a different message.

Racist, Immoral Dehumanization of Immigrant Children

There are two main challenges in addressing the border issue of increased numbers of undocumented children traveling alone from Central America to the US.
The first is that the dehumanization of Latinos in the US has been so tremendously successful that a basic call for decency and humanity is absent from the conversations surrounding this situation. For example, I recently highlighted the issue in an op-ed to a local newspaper and the comments reveal people hiding their racism behind arguments of “legal” and “illegal.”

An absence of decency and humanity can also be seen in the protesters who turned away buses of children or who are protesting detention centers across the country where children are housed because we’re a “nation of laws” or because the children “carry diseases,” “bring crime,” will grow up to “rape women.” This is all to familiar language that uses the same fear tactics, dehumanization, and racism once used towards African Americans during slavery and Jim Crow and towards the Chinese during the late 1800s—language used to justify atrocious acts of oppression of these groups then and language used to justify monstrous cruelty to these children today. One has to wonder if these protesters would have the same response to refugee children coming from Eastern Europe. Perhaps there would still be a backlash against thousands of Eastern European refugee children arriving alone to the US; however, I doubt it would rise to the shameless levels we’ve seen recently, or that it would use the kinds of language being used–language that has roots in removing people of color outside of our human and national family throughout American history. This underscores how effective the racialization of Latinos in the U.S. currently is.

The second hindrance with addressing this issue is the problem of politicians who either do not care or if they do care are acting first and foremost in their self-interests by being in lock step with xenophobic Americans’ preferences. This response by our nations leaders underscores Schneider and Ingram’s research revealing that politicians make laws that benefit certain groups and burden others. This explains why Congress refuses to act in a bipartisan fashion and pass laws addressing this situation. This explains why traumatized children are being put on planes and sent back as a deterrence to others. This is not just, rational, or wise public policy but this is what our political leaders are engaged in.

Instead, there must be another way. There must be collaboration and civility between the nations involved to come up with short-term and long-term policy solutions. For example, Héctor Perla Jr. recently provided examples of both short term and long term solutions in a recent article. Perla gives the example of granting the children refugee status rather than seeing them as undocumented immigrants in the short term, and in the long term he argues we must address economic policies in Central America that are creating the conditions pushing children and their parents to migrate.

Other short term ideas with the goal of preventing further harm to the children immediately by keeping more children from dying or being injured on the train include finding them earlier in the process of migration. This would require creating a coalition between the US and the countries from where the children depart to check the trains and help the kids at that point. Long term of course must address the roots of the problem. This requires taking into consideration why children are fleeing their countries and finding ways to address these issues as Perla suggests. This too, must be done in collaboration with leaders from Mexico and Central America. Of course, civility, compromise, and collaboration across national leaders seems impossible to accomplish when it doesn’t happen across political leaders in this country who follow the desires of many Americans who cannot see Latinos as human beings, not even the children.

Patterns and Politics of Large-Scale Poverty

Over the last half-century, since the passage of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty, there has been a major retrenchment of efforts to help the poor. Over the last five decades, the poverty rate of the elderly dropped significantly from 37 percent in 1960 to 9 percent in 2012. Poverty dropped much more modestly for children and the workforce.

In that era, jobs were at the center of efforts to alleviate poverty. Dr. King’s monumental march on Washington on August 28, 1963, was actually called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The Economic Opportunity Act, the centerpiece of the war against poverty, sought to provide work and education for the needy to improve their lives.

Fifty years later, major educational gaps continue to distinguish the poor and non-poor members of the labor force. For example, one-fourth of the poor did not have a high school diploma in 2012 compared to nearly one-tenth of the non-poor. Further, the non-poor are three times more likely to be college graduates than the poor.

According to census public-use data for 1960 and 2012, the poverty rate of the U.S. workforce fell only slightly, from 14 percent in 1960 to 10 percent in 2012 — a mere 4 percentage points over 52 years. While the poverty gap between the minority and white workforce narrowed over the last five decades, black and Latino workers are still about 2.5 times more likely than whites to be impoverished today.

In fact, the poverty rate of the black labor force (17.2 percent) and the Latino labor force (16 percent) in 2012 was higher than that of whites (10.6 percent) in 1960.

Even more disturbing is the ballooning of the unemployment gap between the U.S. poor and non-poor workforce. While the poor were about 2.5 times more likely than the non-poor to be without a job in 1960, the unemployment gap increased to more than 4.5 times today. In 2012, 32 percent of the nation’s poor labor force was unemployed compared to 7 percent of the non-poor workforce. It is likely that the unemployment rate is actually higher, especially among the destitute, due to people leaving the labor force after lengthy periods of unsuccessful job searches.

The unemployment gap between the poor and non-poor was particularly wide among whites, where the white poor (30 percent) were five times as likely to be without a job compared to the white non-poor (6 percent) in 2012. Nonetheless, many impoverished people in the country are searching for employment. Indeed, the unemployment rate of the poor varied widely in 2012 from 43 percent among blacks to 30 percent among whites to 26 percent among Latinos.

However, among the poor, it is Latino immigrants who have the lowest unemployment rate (20 percent). This challenges notions that Latino immigrants come to the United States to live off the largesse of social services. In fact, Latino immigrants are more likely to be employed than other workers. In addition, Latino immigrants among the working poor are more likely than other impoverished employees to work longer hours and to hold jobs that are the least rewarded and desired.

Of course, a job does not ensure that the poor get out of poverty. Indeed, nearly 70 percent of the poor who are in the labor force are working. While the portion of U.S. workers who are poor declined from 1960 to 2000, there has been a reversal since. In 2012, about one of every 14 U.S. workers was in poverty. But being among the working poor is especially likely among workers of color. About one of nine black workers is poor, one in 10 native-born Latinos, and one in six Latino immigrants.

A lot has changed since the eve of the passage of the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964. The economy then was one in which manufacturing provided a good living for many Americans who had a high school diploma or less. Over the next few decades, such jobs shifted to the hands of workers abroad who toiled for a mere pittance of the pay of American workers. U.S. labor unions saw a major drop in membership and in bargaining power. The American economy increasingly took the shape of an hourglass where job growth expanded at the highest and lowest levels of the job hierarchy. The middle class progressively shrank.

The latest economic crisis has taken a toll on so many people, many of whom had never been poor before. Many people who are working today are still destitute and still others among the poor are desperately looking for employment. Increasingly, our society consists of a small elite body that controls an expanding share of wealth and income and a growing population of disadvantaged people whose sliver of resources is being whittled down.

In the mid-1960s, President Johnson passionately etched the face of the poor on the American consciousness and forcefully pushed for the establishment of policies to improve the lives of people on the margins. A half-century later, there is a stark absence of political leaders who see the poor as a priority.

Today, Republican-led policies, with relatively little resistance from Democrats, are escalating the war against the poor. Instead of creating opportunities to better the lives of the needy, legislators blame the poor for their dire straits. Congress has slashed food stamp allocations, terminated unemployment payments and thwarted the increase of the minimum wage for people viewed as too powerless to matter.

Over the last half-century, there has not been a more desperate time than today for visionary leaders who boldly push for the establishment of opportunities to improve the lot of our nation’s poor.

This commentary was originally published in the San Antonio Express-News.