State of U.S. Latinos has Suffered in Bush-led Union, Hispanic Leaders Say

George W. Bush won the White House in 2004 with the help of large numbers of Latino voters. But his failure to push through comprehensive immigration reform and the “onslaught” against Latinos that gathered momentum on his watch leave some Latinos to conclude they are worse off than they were before.Latino voters helped to propel George W. Bush to re-election in 2004, giving him 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in a tight election and setting a record for Latino support of a GOP candidate.

But after seven years of Bush’s leadership, some leaders in the Latino community claim Hispanic people have suffered disproportionately under the Bush administration and many are now worse off in many respects than they were before he took office.

“When President Bush came into office there was a lot of hope. He came in saying he would be a friend to the Latino community,” said Vanessa Cardenas of the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank in Washington D.C.  “He promised that he would broker an immigration accord, but he couldn’t bring his party together. And what’s worse, his administration in the past year has focused on enforcing a broken immigration system.”

In an article that appeared on the CAP website Monday, Cardenas compiled a list of statistics that collectively paint a bleak picture of the overall well-being of the Latino population in the United States. The State of Latinos in the Union includes no commentary. Cardenas says the figures on immigration, housing, education, health care and employment speak for themselves.

Here are a few highlights:

  • Latinos make up 14.8 percent of the total U.S. population, but they represent about 21 percent of the subprime default burden. (source: President of the Center for Responsible Lending before the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services, March 2007
  • Over 4,000 workers, most of them Hispanic, were arrested during worksite raids in 2007 and later deported. (U.S. Customs and Immigration Services)
  • Twenty-four percent of Latino 16- to 24-year-olds dropped out of school in 2004, twice the rate of black students and three times the rate of white students. (U.S. Department of Education)
  • Over one-third of the Hispanic population was uninsured in 2006, compared with 10.8 percent of whites and 20.5 percent of blacks. (U.S. Census)
  • Over 20 percent of the Latino population lived in poverty in 2006, compared with 8.2 percent of the white population. (U.S. Census)
  • As of December 2007, the unemployment rate among Latinos reached 6.3 percent, the highest in years. (U.S. Census)

Polly Baca, president of the nonprofit Latin American Research and Service Agency in Denver, said that although these numbers are national, the struggles of Latinos in Colorado over recent years are reflected in the data.

Twenty percent of Colorado’s population is Hispanic, but in 2005 they accounted for more than 40 percent of the state’s uninsured population. The median household income for Latinos in Colorado in 1999 was nearly $12,500 less than for the total population, according to Census figures.

“The whole country is suffering because of the economy. The poor are becoming poorer, and that’s obvious in the numbers,” Baca said. “But as Latinos, we are overrepresented among the economically disadvantaged, and part of that is a direct result of the Bush policies.”

Baca added that Latinos have also been negatively affected in recent years by the anti-illegal immigration movement, which sometimes employs harsh rhetoric that angers and frustrates many Latinos.

“When Bush became president he had a very positive approach to Latinos, reaching out to them and commending their work ethic, et cetera,” she said. “But today there is this great public onslaught against Latinos. They are being used as scapegoats for a lot of the difficulty in the economy.”

Travis Martinez, vice chair of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly of Colorado, admitted that some of the rhetoric used by the GOP to talk about immigration has hurt the party’s standing among Latinos. But he says a distinction must be made between the president and some members of his party.

“The last time I checked, it was George W. Bush who was pushing for comprehensive immigration reform,” Martinez wrote in an e-mail. “But it was his own party that resoundingly rejected the Kennedy-McCain bill.”

Martinez disagreed that Latinos are worse off now than they were when Bush took office. He pointed to the growing number of Latino-owned businesses and a 2007 study from the Pew Hispanic Center that highlights significant progress made by Latino foreign-born workers in terms of moving up the wage scale.

Martinez also noted that the Bush administration has made an effort to include Latinos in the highest levels of government: Carlos M. Gutierrez is the Secretary of Commerce; Alberto Gonzales was the first Hispanic U.S. Attorney General; and Bush also nominated Linda Chavez for Secretary of Labor, but she later withdrew her nomination.

“Politically, Hispanics have gained significantly over the past seven years,” Martinez said. “If Hispanics look at the big picture, they will see that they are better off than they were, and they will continue to improve themselves over the next seven years.”

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Kate Bernuth

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