Population Growth Poses Challenges For Hispanics

Hispanics are the fastest growing population in the U-S, according to new census figures. The data reveals that the number of Hispanics has by grown 43% in the past ten years. This week, President Obama held a town hall meeting in Washington D.C, to discuss challenges facing Hispanics. The event was convened by leading Spanish language TV network, Univision. To explore the impact of that population growth on Hispanics, host Michel Martin speaks with Jorge Ramos, longtime anchor of the network's nightly newscast.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, the U.S. involvement in Libya might be confusing, it might be politically fraught, it might be dangerous, but is it just? We talk with a leading scholar on just-war theory to ask if the current conflict meets the standard of this longstanding theological framework. That's our "Faith Matters" conversation this week.

And later, we'll tell you about a sporting event tomorrow that will have millions upon millions of people glued to the set. It is the World Cup finals of cricket. That's all coming up.

But first, a newsmaker interview with a man who speaks to, and sometimes for, this country's largest and fastest-growing minority. Those who claim Hispanic heritage are now 16 percent of the U.S. population, according to the latest census figures just out. That's an increase of 43 percent in 10 years - over 50 million people. That's one reason his evening newscast regularly beats those of other broadcast networks in some major cities.

He's Jorge Ramos. He is the co-anchor of Noticiero Univision, the nightly newscast on the U.S. Spanish-language television network Univision. He's also the host of "Al Punto," a Sunday morning talk program on the same network. And he's also the author of a number of books. And he's with us from the studios of Univision in Miami. Jorge Ramos, thank you so much for joining us. It's a pleasure to speak with you.

Mr. JORGE RAMOS (Co-Anchor, Noticiero Univision): Thank you. Gracias.

MARTIN: Now, one of the reasons we called you is that you hosted a town hall meeting on Monday evening - well, it was actually hosted during the day, and it aired on Monday evening - with President Obama, where you and members of your audience talked primarily about education. But the special aired at the same time as the president's address to the nation on Libya. And isn't your audience equally interested in what the president has to say about Libya?

Mr. RAMOS: Absolutely. But you know, it was a scheduling problem. Right before we knew that the president was going to be talking about Libya, we had scheduled this one-hour - you know - town hall meeting with President Barack Obama. So, what we did, we had the best of both worlds.

We not only had a one-hour - a full hour with President Barack Obama, in which my first question was precisely on Libya, the kind of involvement that we were going to have in Libya. And he repeated what he had said just a week before in an interview in San Salvador, that he promised that there would be no land invasion.

So in other words, our audience knew what President Barack Obama was going to say on Libya at least half an hour before all the other networks. And at the same time, right at the end of our special program, we had the president's speech on Libya. So actually, we had both news right, I would say, at least 30 minutes before all the other networks. So it was great. It was good.

MARTIN: And one of the reasons that you wanted to host this town hall meeting, and one of the reasons education is such a big focus - and you talked about this right at the top of the hour - the high dropout rate among Hispanic students. Only one in three Hispanic students graduates from high school. This is what the president had to say about this.

President BARACK OBAMA: Our workforce is going to be more diverse. It is going to be, to a large percentage, Latino. And if our young people are not getting the kind of education they need, we won't succeed as a nation.

Now, here's what's also important - that eight out of 10 future jobs are going to require more than a high school education. They're going to require some sort of higher education, whether it's a community college, a four-year college; at the very least, some job training and technical training - all of which means nobody, nobody can drop out.

MARTIN: Now, I know you've been following this story for years, why do you think there's such a high dropout rate? And do you think that the president's message is getting through?

Mr. RAMOS: Well, I certainly hope so. What's so interesting is that when people talk about Latinos, they tend to think the priority for us is immigration. And of course, we are very involved with immigration issues. But poll after poll shows that the most important issues for Latino has to do with jobs, of course, and with education.

And the fact that we have a huge dropout rate is dismaying. I got here - to this country - in 1983 and even back then, people were talking about this incredibly high dropout rate. It has to do with many things. It has to do with culture. Within Hispanic families, it is not common to have people going to college. But it is also - the most important thing has to do with poverty. One out of four Latinos live in poverty. And therefore, after they are done with high school, most of them have to work, simply to survive.

And at the end, it has to do with information. And that's why the forum with President Barack Obama was so important - because there are so many ways in which Hispanic students can go to college, and they simply do not have the information. But if I would have to point out just one element, I would have to say it has to do with economics. If they have to work to survive, obviously, they're not going to go to college. And it's a tragedy.

If you put together eight Hispanic students, only one of them - one out of eight - is going to go to college, and that has to change. And hopefully, with forums like this - with President Barack Obama - and other programming, we're going to be able to have an impact on these young Latinos.

MARTIN: Now, you talked about the fact that education is a priority and an important issue, perhaps far more than many people may realize. But immigration is also an issue. And you talked about this in the town hall meeting. In fact, you pointed out - this is something that many people may not know - that this administration has deported more immigrants than any of his recent predecessors.

The president said at the town hall that the largest group of deported immigrants have been criminals. And I'm interested in your understanding of your audience, and how this is viewed. Do you think that people in your listening audience buy that perspective? You think they share that perspective?

Mr. RAMOS: Absolutely not. And it is not true. President Barack Obama has deported more undocumented immigrants than any other president in the history of the United States - more than George W. Bush. The last numbers that I have say that about 800,000 undocumented immigrants have been deported by President Barack Obama. And the majority of them, the majority of them are not criminals.

So for Latinos, it is very difficult. They thought that something was going to happen with President Barack Obama, and nothing really has happened on immigration. He has promised many things. But at the end - I mean, I still remember during the campaign, President Barack Obama told me that he was going to make an immigration proposal during his first years in office. That's what many people called la promesa de Obama, Obama's promise - and that didn't happen.

So people are very disillusioned with that - with the fact that President Barack Obama made a promise, and he just didn't keep his word. So - and that's very difficult.

MARTIN: But you know this is a very emotional - an issue for many Americans. I mean, there are those who would say that by definition, if you are here without proper authorization you are, by definition, a criminal. I mean, there is that point of view.

Mr. RAMOS: I understand that.

MARTIN: So the question I have is, do you feel - do you see - you know, I know that, you know, you're a journalist. But do you see, in your reporting, any way in which this gap is bridged, or is bridgeable?

Mr. RAMOS: Well, I mean obviously, when they got to this country, they are doing something illegally. I do understand that. But they are here because there are thousands of American companies who are hiring them. And they are here because there are millions of Americans, including you and me, who benefit from their work.

I mean, the houses where we live, the apartments where we live, the food that we eat - the houses were built by, most of the time, by undocumented immigrants. The food that we eat - most of the time, undocumented immigrants are involved in it.

So I think we have to be very careful here because it's a double standard. We can, obviously, criticize undocumented immigrants. But on the other hand, everyone - including you and I - we're benefiting from their work. So something has to be done. It's an economic problem; then, it's an economic solution.

And unfortunately, we can't blame only President Barack Obama here. We do not have 60 votes in the Senate right now, and Republicans are essentially not helping. If Republicans were to help on this, we would have an immigration reform right now. But under this political climate, I find it close to impossible. But we can blame both Democrats and Republicans for the lack of action on immigration. And it is truly shameful because right now, there are 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country - and the number is increasing.

By the time that the message gets to Latin America that there is an economic recovery in this country, believe me, thousands and thousands are going to keep on coming to this country.

MARTIN: And I want to ask you about that in a minute. But I just want to say, if you're just joining us, I'm Michel Martin, and you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Our guest is Jorge Ramos. He's the anchor on the U.S. Spanish-language network Univision, and he is the host of two programs there. And his broadcast - his evening news broadcast regularly beats those of the other major broadcast networks in certain major U.S. cities. I didn't think you'd mind my mentioning that.

You were talking about the political climate, though. You know, in 2010, voters elected three Hispanic Republicans to statewide office: Governor Susana Martinez, of New Mexico; Brian Sandoval, of Nevada; and of course, Marco Rubio, your senator, from Florida. And I'm wondering if you see any sign that this kind of diversity of political identity among Latinos is changing the dynamic at all - of our conversations around these issues.

Mr. RAMOS: What I'm saying - what I'm seeing, it's a truly demographic revolution in this country. No one - and that's the new rule in politics - no one can make it to the White House without the Hispanic vote. And that's something that Democrats and Republicans do understand. It is really hopeful to see that we have, right now, the first African-American president at the White House. And since there are more Latinos, my hope is that very soon, we will see the first Hispanic president of the United States.

So the problem right now is that we are underrepresented - when I say we, Latinos - we are underrepresented politically. We are 16 percent of the population, and we have only two senators. And that has to change. Well, it has many explanations. It has to do with the fact that the majority of Latinos are under 25 years of age. Eventually, when many of them turn 18, they're going to be voters, and it's going to be an important bloc.

Texas could become a blue state because of that. Half of all newborns in California now are Latinos. Half of all students in elementary school in Texas are Latinos. So it's truly a demographic revolution that - it's going to have - and it's already having - enormous impact economically and politically.

MARTIN: And we only have a minute left. And I think people would appreciate if I point out, there are actually no African-American senators sitting right now -which is an interesting fact, given that African-Americans are still a large part of the population. So do you put your money on - you've got 50 seconds or so - do you put your money on any particular candidate as the one to watch, who could be that first one?

Mr. RAMOS: I'm seeing George P. Bush; I'm seeing Julian Castro in San Antonio; I'm seeing Marco Rubio. There are many

MARTIN: George P. Bush being the son of former Governor Jeb Bush.

Mr. RAMOS: Absolutely. Absolutely.

MARTIN: OK.

Mr. RAMOS: So there are many names - which is fantastic, the fact that we can now talk about the first Hispanic president of the United States. It is incredibly hopeful. And it is - tying to the beginning of the program it - it is saying we are a lot of people here, but we need more political power.

MARTIN: Jorge Ramos is the co-anchor of Noticiero Univision, the nightly newscast on U.S. Spanish-language television network Univision. He's also the host of "Al Punto," a Sunday morning talk program on the same network. He's the author of many books. And he was kind enough to join us from Univision's studios in Miami. Jorge Ramos, thank you so much for joining us. I hope we'll speak again.

Mr. RAMOS: Thank you.

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