To mobilize Hispanic voters in November, big labor and advocates of liberal efforts at overhauling immigration laws have announced a $300,000 ad campaign attacking Republican Senators for blocking passage of the so-called DREAM Act.
The ad will air on Spanish-language radio stations in Arizona, Florida, Nevada and other states with large Latino populations. The effort was conceived and funded by the Service Employees International Union, Mi Familia Vota and America's Voice, which say the $300,000 is the most ever spent on a Spanish-language radio campaign by groups such as theirs to make their case on immigration.
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Arizona's controversial immigration law sparked protests in other places earlier this year, as at this rally in New York City on May 1. Now, some groups are protesting the Senate's failure to pass the DREAM Act.
A solid Hispanic turnout could tip a number of close races, but Latinos, like many other voters who traditionally lean toward Democratic candidates, have yet to strongly engage in this election season. Because Latinos overwhelmingly support efforts to overhaul the nation's immigration laws, organizers hope the ad campaign can shake them from their malaise.
The DREAM Act became ready fodder when it died in the Senate on Sept. 22 after Democrats failed to get a single Republican to vote in support, including among from Republicans who had favored the measure in the past.
"For us, it really starts with the sense that fixing the economy requires fixing or reforming our broken immigration system," SEUI spokesman Teddy Davis says. "We need to stop exploiting our undocumented workers or it's going to drag down the floor on all workers. So it has an impact on everyone."
The DREAM Act would establish a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants younger than 36 who arrived in the United States as children, have lived here for five years or more, and are attending college or serving in the military. More than 800,000 of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the nation could have been eligible.
Here's an English translation of the Voices of Dream Act Youth radio ad:
"What would you do if a group of politicians were denying your hopes, your dreams?
"Thousands of us have taken to the streets to fight for what's right: access to a college education and a path to citizenship.
"We're the undocumented students of the DREAM Act … the sonadores.
"Without papers, and without fear, we fight so our generation doesn't get left behind.
"But who opposed this bill? Who wants to quash our dreams?
"Republicans. The same people who opposed the extension of unemployment benefits.
"Republicans. Who try to deny immigrant rights in Arizona and other states.
"Republicans. Who always seem to stand with big corporations against working families.
"President Obama, the armed forces, chambers of commerce, universities and a majority of the public are on our side.
"And they need our help.
"This November 2nd, in (STATE NAME) — vote for the candidates who support our families, and make our dreams come true.
"This ad is paid for by the Service Employees International Union, Mi Familia Vota Civic Participation Campaign and America's Voice."
The Defense Department has said the act could help it maintain "a mission-ready, all-volunteer force."
Versions of the bill have been debated in Congress over the past decade and previously received the support of several Republican senators, including John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
But last week Republicans, in voting against it, accused Democrats of playing politics to curry favor with voters ahead of Election Day by attaching the legislation to a Defense appropriations bill. Also included was a repeal of the military’s "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bars openly homosexual men and women from serving in the armed forces.
Advocates of the DREAM Act legislation say last week's vote imperils chances for comprehensive immigration reform, particularly given the public acceptance of harsh laws for illegal immigrants recently passed in Arizona and gaining traction elsewhere.
Congress's failure to act also opened the Democratic leadership and the Obama administration to criticism from Latinos within the party.
"There are no policies coming out of Washington as it relates to immigration," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the first Hispanic to hold that office in his city, said in a meeting with NPR Tuesday in Washington. "Washington has just completely abdicated its responsibility."
A Threat To Their Dream?
The ad, which began airing earlier this week and will be heard on radio stations through this weekend, portrays Republicans as a threat to Latinos' goal of achieving the American dream.
"What would you do if a group of politicians were denying your hopes, your dreams?" the ad’s narrator begins.
While many Latino groups have expressed frustration with the Obama administration's inability to advance an overhaul of immigration laws, the ad makes a clear effort to insulate the president: "President Obama, the armed forces, chambers of commerce, universities and a majority of the public are on our side."
The radio spot is playing in nine cities across Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Nevada and Texas. The markets were selected because they have significant Latino populations that could factor heavily in those state’s close elections.
Latinos could have the greatest impact in California, where they now make up roughly 20 percent of registered voters. Their rapidly growing turnout, which leapt 85 percent from 2000 to 2008, has helped nudge the state back toward the political left.
Brown, Whitman And The Latino Vote
They already are figuring heavily in the pitched battle for California governor between Democratic nominee Jerry Brown and Republican nominee Meg Whitman. Most polling puts the race at a statistical tie or shows Brown, the state's attorney general and former governor, holding a narrow lead against Whitman, the former eBay chief executive and first-time candidate.
This week Whitman, who has vowed to crack down on businesses employing undocumented workers, has been hit with accusations that she knowingly employed an illegal immigrant as her housekeeper.
Whitman has denied the claim, as well as allegations made by the former housekeeper that Whitman "exploited ... and emotionally and financially abused" her.
Latinos favored Brown by 19 points in a Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll released Monday. Since nonwhites were evenly split between the two candidates, Brown's 5 percentage point advantage in the overall survey was owed to Latino supporters.
The SEUI plans to begin airing another Spanish-language ad in the Los Angeles and Fresno markets on Saturday that attacks Whitman over the housekeeper flap: "Whitman attacks undocumented workers to win votes, but an undocumented woman worked in her home for nine years," the narrator says. "Whitman says one thing in Spanish and something different in English. ... The real Meg Whitman has no shame. She's a two-faced woman."
Whitman denounced the ad at a press conference Thursday.
"I have been to Spanish communities ... Latino communities throughout this state and I have worked very hard to win the vote of Latinos," she said. The Brown campaign and organized labor "are nervous about it," Whitman added. "Their campaign is in trouble. They are worried. They took Latinos for granted."
Indeed, Latinos don't appear deeply enthusiastic about Brown, according to the research group Latino Decisions, which conducted the oversampling of Latino voters for the survey. The survey shows Brown with the support of 54 percent of Latino voters, compared with the 66 percent who favored California's Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, who is in the midst of a tough re-election campaign.
The Whitman campaign sees a chance to carve away some Latino support. Of the $38 million she has spent on TV advertising, Whitman has put $4.5 million into Hispanic media, according to Evan Tracey, president of CMAG, an Arlington, Va., firm that tracks political advertising on television.
By comparison, Tracey says, Brown has made no ad buys with Latino media. That's where the SEIU has stepped in, announcing this week a $5 million effort to mobilize Latino voters for Brown.