CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:
I'm Celeste Headlee and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, there's a lot of political debate about undocumented immigrants in this country. In a moment, we'll focus on the challenges faced by millions of legal immigrants. But first, we want to look at the Obama administration's continued outreach to Latinos. The first lady spoke with Hispanic civil rights group National Council of La Raza yesterday. And while her speech focused mainly on her campaign for healthy eating, this is just the latest White House effort to engage the Latino community. Here to talk more about this is veteran journalist Jorge Ramos. He's the co-host of the news program "Noticiero Univision," and the host of the weekend program "Al Punto con Jorge Ramos." Welcome to the program.
JORGE RAMOS: Great to be here.
HEADLEE: So the first lady didn't really give a real hard-hitting policy speech to La Raza. But is there a symbolic meaning to her going to talk to the organization?
RAMOS: La Raza, of course, is one of the most important, symbolic organizations in our community. And nowadays since everyone - and by everyone, I mean both political parties, really are trying to get the Hispanic vote, it's always important to have a big presence.
HEADLEE: Well, last week President Obama hosted an event that he called En Vivo desde la Casa Blanca, which means live from the White House. Four journalists from the nation's largest Spanish-speaking television networks, your own, Univision, and Telemundo included, interviewed the president one-on-one. Most of those conversations focused on immigration reform, I understand. How did he do? Were the things that he said important, were the viewers of Univision and Telemundo pleased with what they heard?
RAMOS: I think so. I mean, if both parties are doing immigration reform so they can get a significant portion of the Hispanic vote, they better let Latinos know about it. And so they better do it in Spanish, otherwise nobody would know what they are doing. I just read recently a very interesting Pew Hispanic Center report, they say 68 percent of Latinos get their news or some of their news in Spanish. President Barack Obama clearly understands that.
HEADLEE: You know, and I've spoken to you before, Jorge, and you've emphasized the fact that immigration is not the only issue that Latino voters are concerned about. And certainly the Democratic Party has been accused, at times, of taking the Latino vote for granted. So what advice would you give, not just to Democrats, but to any politicians who don't want to do that, who don't want to take Latinos for granted, who want to address issues besides immigration perhaps, that really concern the Hispanic populations?
RAMOS: I think if you do not pay attention to the Hispanic population, if you do not pay attention to Latino voters, it's political suicide. We are living in a truly demographic revolution. You know, the Hispanic population will triple to 150 million in less than 40 years. So who wants to risk the White House by not paying attention to Latinos, and in this case, I think the GOP has a big problem.
HEADLEE: We're going to talk about that more in just a moment, but if you're just joining us, we're speaking with journalist and Univision host Jorge Ramos. We're talking about the White House's continued outreach to Latinos through Hispanic media.
Let's expand a little bit on what you just said, because you've talked pretty firmly about the need for the GOP to get on board with immigration reform, but let me push back just a little bit. I imagine that the fear among some Republicans is that Latinos have proven to be - to lean toward the Democratic Party and therefore, immigration reform, which would bring a lot more Latino and Hispanic voters into the fold, would mean just padding the numbers of the Democrats.
RAMOS: Well, that's a possibility, but on the other hand, we have to recognize that Republicans have a big problem with immigration reform. It's an issue that so far has created a nightmare within the party. If they don't resolve the problem with Latinos, which is mainly concentrated on immigration reform, it's going to be almost impossible for them to win the White House in 2016. And if Latinos perceive that Republicans are to blame for the absence of immigration reform, I think Republicans are going to pay the price for that. So the challenge right now is obviously for Republicans and for speaker John Boehner. I don't think John Boehner wants to be - I don't think he wants to become the new Joe Arpaio, Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Among Latinos, one of the most hated figures, political figures...
HEADLEE: You're talking about Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona.
RAMOS: And I don't think John Boehner wants to join the ranks of Joe Arpaio or Governor Pete Wilson, or Governor Jan Brewer.
HEADLEE: ...to specify that you're talking about Pete Wilson of California and Jan Brewer, also of Arizona.
RAMOS: Exactly. So I think Latinos know that John Boehner, in this case, is the man that - he can make it or break it when it comes to immigration reform, and Latinos won't forget in the next election.
HEADLEE: Although, again to push back just a little bit on that idea, Jorge, John Boehner famously hasn't seemed to have a whole lot of control over the House. I mean, he doesn't seem to have - to be able to control some outliers in his party, even in the core of his party who, many of them, are not - say they are not going to pass immigration reform without a stiff enforcement policy, unless they increase - build a wall on the border, unless they increase the numbers of border agents exponentially, they will not pass immigration reform. I mean, how is John Boehner supposed to be responsible for people like that?
RAMOS: It's politics. You have to be pragmatic and that's what they resolve in the Senate. So obviously, there's going to be an important enforcement part for any immigration bill. We agree on that. Now in the House, even they are considering the possibility of giving legalization without a path to citizenship, with a possibility, of course, of correcting that in conference later on. However, it is very clear from the Hispanic point of view and from the immigrant community that Republicans have in their hands the possibility of approving immigration reform, and again, I think Latinos will remember that. We have been waiting for this for so long. President George W. Bush promised that in the year 2000, and then of course came 9/11.
And then he tried again in 2007 and he was way too late. He just didn't have the political force to do something about it. Then President Barack Obama promised that as a candidate in 2008 and he didn't deliver on his promise. So Democrats are also to be blamed for that. And now, finally in 2013, we have the possibility of immigration reform, of legalizing 11 million undocumented immigrants who are in this country because there are thousands of American companies who hire them and millions of Americans who benefit from their work. So we are so close, and at the end I think the last effort is going to have to be done by Republicans.
HEADLEE: Although Latino voters, unless they're in John Boehner's district, they can't punish him personally or politically. How will they exert that pressure?
RAMOS: Well, I think Latinos will simply punish the party that could be blamed for the absence of immigration reform. It's that simple. I mean, the trend is so clear from Bush who got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, and then McCain down to 31, and Romney to 27. So if this trend continues, it would be close to impossible for the Republicans to win the White House back. And then, if we put it in context, again, realizing that we are 55 million Latinos right now, but we will be 150 in a little more than 35 years.
Republicans better understand that this is a different country. We are in the middle of a truly, truly demographic revolution. Latinos are changing the way we speak, the way we dance, the way we do politics in this country, the way we vote. So unless you understand that this is a completely different country, that this is not a white and black country, that this is much more complicated country in which minorities will become the majority.
I mean, you just have to go to California and realize that if you go to any hospital, you will realize that the majority of the names of the newborns are Jose, Matias, Jorge, Eduardo. Like it or not, Latinos are changing the way we - we see ourselves in this country.
HEADLEE: At the same time, though, Jorge, let's jump ahead however long - 10, 15 years. Eventually, there will be some form of immigration reform. Hypothetically speaking, let's say that immigration reform has been taken off the table as a political issue. The Republican Party likes to say that Latinos are natural Republican conservative voters because on social issues they agree in many ways with the GOP. So if immigration is taken off the table, do you think that those large numbers of Latinos that you're talking about will then gravitate toward the conservative party?
RAMOS: That's a possibility. But again, if Republicans don't do that, we'll never know and they'll never know. They simply, I think, have no option but to approve immigration reform. Before the interview, I was checking some of the numbers and the support for immigration reform within the Hispanic community is almost universal. Most polls suggest a level of support between 80 and 90 percent.
And for me, it's very, very simple to explain that. Immigration, for us, is personal. It's something personal. Half of all adult Latinos are immigrants in this country. So when we are talking about immigration reform, we are talking about our neighbors, we're talking about my coworkers, we're talking about the people I talk to every single morning in the store.
HEADLEE: In order to exert real political pressure, though, it might be necessary to get more Latinos to the polls. Less than half of eligible voters among Latinos and Hispanics went to the polls this past presidential election.
RAMOS: There is no excuse. Only 12 million Latinos went to the polls in the last presidential election. The estimate suggests that about 60 million Latinos will go to the polls in the next election. However, in a very close election - and that is what we have been having since year 2000 - in a very close election, Latino voters in states like Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, again, might decide the election. And that's why it's so important. For many, many years, people thought of the Latino community as the sleeping giant.
Well, the giant woke up many, many years ago and the Hispanic community is deciding elections in many states. And we are here to stay. As a matter of fact, I love it when I have the opportunity to go to talk to Hispanic communities, when I have to present my books or in lectures or simply covering different news because I get to meet Hispanic families who bring me their kids and they say, look, this is Maria or this is Juan, and Maria will become the first presidenta, or Juan will become the first Hispanic president.
And it is simply a matter of numbers. If the African-American community is smaller than the Hispanic community, I think the next frontier for Latinos is to have the first Hispanic president. And there are, of course, many names right now on the table for that.
HEADLEE: Jorge Ramos is the co-host of Univision's evening news program "Noticiero Univision," and the host of the weekend program "Al Punto con Jorge Ramos." He joined us from their studios there in Miami. Thanks so much.
RAMOS: Thank you. Gracias.