Will Obama's 'Hateful Rhetoric' Draw Hispanic Voters?

Is the United States a sponsor of terrorism?  That question could have been asked after hearing Barack Obama’s scandalous claim last Sunday that federal immigration agents “terrorized” communities during immigration raids. 

Obama made his remark to the National Council of La Raza, perhaps the largest organization in a movement whose two main goals — to promote Hispanic pride in “the homeland” and to pressure American politicians to enact policies that help Hispanics escape “the homeland” — would seem to be at cross purposes.  Nevertheless.  Obama told the group: 
“The system isn’t working when 12 million people live in hiding, and hundreds of thousands cross our borders illegally each year; when companies hire undocumented immigrants instead of legal citizens to avoid paying overtime or to avoid a union; when communities are terrorized by ICE immigration raids, when nursing mothers are torn from their babies; when children come home from school to find their parents missing; when people are detained without access to legal counsel.”

Obama’s comments could lead careful political observers to two distinct conclusions, neither of which provides flattering commentary on the candidate’s feelings about America or his political sense.  Either he believes — as some have suggested — that America should feel shame for what he perceives as our unworthiness.  Or he is engaging in a little old fashioned pandering. 

The latter conclusion is plausible given that the United States’ 46 million Hispanics constitute its largest and fastest growing minority group.  Hispanics compose about 15 percent of the population, a share that, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, will likely double by 2050.
But the former conclusion also seems possible.  Given Obama’s claim in February that the world’s foremost terrorist enterprise, al Qaeda, is not in Iraq and given John Kerry’s 2005 comment that American troops were “terrorizing Iraqi children,” this means that the Democratic Party’s last two standard-bearers have suggested there are more terrorists in the U.S. military and law enforcement than there are in Iraq.

In truth, while many illegal immigrants enter the U.S. only to seek jobs, studies have uncovered a positive association between enforcement of immigration laws and general law abidance.  In just one recent example, the Associated Press reported that Prince William County, Virginia, has experienced a marked decline in crime that can be linked to its efforts to reduce illegal immigration.  Between 2006 and 2007, the county saw a 44 percent drop in homicides, one-third decrease in rapes, 23 percent drop in robberies and an 18 percent decrease in aggravated assaults. 

An objective analysis of the agency Obama condemned reveals that it is more likely to bring peace, even to immigrant communities.  ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is the largest investigative branch of the Department of Homeland Security.  It was formed in March 2003 by combining the law enforcement arms of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service and the former U.S. Customs Service.  And it has quite an impressive and varied list of accomplishments.  For instance:  

— In the first nine months of fiscal year 2008, ICE returned 7,345 illegal aliens to their home countries who had been living in Washington, Oregon and Alaska, a 39 percent increase in the volume of deportations from the three states since 2007.  Of the more than 7,300 deportations, over 2,000 had prior criminal convictions in addition to being in the country illegally.

— During the first half of 2008, ICE deported 5,889 illegal immigrants in Florida, including 1,251 criminal aliens with criminal records that included everything from murder and sex offenses to drug crimes.  ICE also has played a key role in arresting persons involved in child pornography.

— ICE recently launched an advertising campaign featuring billboards and transit shelter signs in seven major U.S. cities in its ongoing efforts to raise public awareness about the plight of human trafficking.  The agency also has distributed video public service announcements to television stations in 30 media markets across the country urging the public to report suspected cases of trafficking, which often involves sexual abuse of women and young girls. 

— On July 8th, ICE special agents helped seize $6 million worth of cocaine in Puerto Rico, a country from which agents seized $207 million worth of cocaine in 2006 and 2007.

— ICE agents helped indict two munitions dealers on charges of exporting military aircraft parts to Iran.

— ICE special agents recently arrested a French couple for defrauding French residents out of thousands of dollars with promises of work and U.S. green cards. 

And these are only some of the examples from reports over just the last two weeks! 

A decade ago, Obama’s use of the word “terrorize” in this context might have been considered merely clumsy.  But in today’s post-9-11 world, with real terrorists still targeting Americans at home and abroad, the word carries much more weight. 

Which gets us back to demographics and the main reason I believe Obama used such a politically-charged word.  Obama was speaking to key members of what may be the swing voting bloc in this year’s election.  According to the Pew Hispanic Center report, “Hispanics constitute a sizable share of the electorate in four of the six states that President Bush carried by margins of five percentage points or fewer in 2004.”  All four are expected to be battlegrounds again this year.  Obama made clear that he appreciates the power of the burgeoning Hispanic vote when he told his audience, “Make no mistake about it, the Latino community holds this election in its hands.”

In his remarks to La Raza, Obama insisted that Americans are counting on their leaders to “…stop the hateful rhetoric filling our airwaves, rhetoric that poisons our political discourse, degrades our democracy and has no place in this great nation.” 

If Obama’s shameless use of the word “terrorized” to describe the actions of law enforcement personnel who do their jobs — to enforce laws — doesn’t qualify as hateful, poisonous or degrading, what does?