Esther Cepeda: Reality check on immigration reform
CHICAGO — We know that diversity is a source of strength. Yet sometimes it's also a challenge.
I'm thinking of the "Hispanic community," which I've placed in quotes because both parts of this umbrella term are heavily contested. Not only is there no consensus on whether the preferred term should be Hispanic or Latino, the very notion that there is a cohesive community with similar characteristics is laughable.
Anyone wondering why Hispanics have not yet reached critical mass at the voting booth or in legislative bodies should look to their immense diversity. We're talking about a population that is both native- and foreign-born and no longer even united by language.
As the children and grandchildren of immigrants from Latin America grow up and become successful business people, politicians or Hollywood stars, they're subject to being picked apart for not being "Latino-enough" or "Hispanic in name only." This is not a recipe for strength in numbers. It's also, probably, the No. 1 reason that, for most of the past decade, immigration reform has gone nowhere: No consensus exists on how the issue should be resolved.
For so many reasons — for how Hispanics are perceived by non-Hispanics in society, by the acculturation and crime fears that invariably accompany any discussion about immigration, and to answer ever-present questions about true national loyalty — it bears repeating that immigration is not Hispanics' most pressing issue and not one with widely agreed-upon views.
The current lively debate — almost exclusively among Hispanics active on social media and on the comment boards of Hispanic news sites — about whether immigration has crowded out other pressing issues for Hispanics has finally prodded the nonpartisan Pew Research Center's Hispanic Trends Project to weigh in on the relative importance of immigration. Again.
"Indeed, when Pew Research Center has surveyed the Hispanic community, there are several issues that consistently rank higher on the list than immigration," wrote Jens Manuel Krogstad on Pew's Fact Tank Blog. "In 2013, some 57 percent of Hispanic registered voters called education an 'extremely important' issue facing the nation today. That's compared with jobs and the economy (52 percent) and health care (43 percent). Just 32 percent said immigration."
These issues and their order of rank have not changed much over several decades and yet immigration sucks the oxygen out of nearly every conversation concerning Hispanics.
Tipping off this entire episode of introspection was Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, who in an April essay — "Immigration Reform and the Latino Civil Rights Movement: Are They Now in Conflict?" —reiterated my lament: "Politically, the immigration issue is presented as the silver bullet to the heart of the Latino vote. ... The fact that immigration never seems to emerge as the only or even most important issue prioritized by Latinos in poll after poll doesn't seem to matter; how other issues will influence the Latino vote is not really seriously being discussed."
Even when discussing the immigration issue, there is no landslide-type of consensus on whether the "immigrant community" — another highly diverse population of people who are from all over the world under greatly different circumstance — should fight only for deportation relief or stop at nothing less than a clear path to citizenship. Even attitudes about whether unauthorized immigration has a positive or negative impact on U.S. Hispanics vary widely.
Today's furor is about whether certain immigrant advocacy organizations were right to ask President Barack Obama to hold off on any deportation-deferring executive action to let Republicans legislate — or whether those groups are nothing more than sellouts.
Tomorrow's debate will surely pivot on some other ideological principle that non-Hispanics assume is a widely shared attitude but actually isn't. The truth is that Hispanics are no different than the rest of Americans in that they have complex views of immigration — and despite gridlock on immigration reform, this is not a bad thing.
Esther Cepeda writes for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.