Paying Lip Service to Latinos

It takes more than being able to mouth ¡Hola, amigos! to connect with the Hispanic people. The Bush administration seems to think that this will suffice in winning our support.

It takes more than being able to mouth ¡Hola, amigos! to connect with the Hispanic people. The Bush administration seems to think that this will suffice in winning our support.

A Spanish phrase tossed here and there by President Bush does not a friend of the Latino community make. His record on education, immigration, small business, and access to health care, for example, does not match his excitement in getting the chance to holler to a throng of Hispanic greeters, ¡¿Cómo está mi gente?!

The Census Bureau and Hispanic groups from across the nation have documented and reported on the massive increase of the Hispanic population. The Census 2000 count reports over 40 million Latinos living in the United States – 13 percent of the nation’s population – making Latinos the largest minority group in the nation. Hispanic purchasing power has surged to over $700 billion and is projected to reach as much as $1 trillion by 2010.

According to groups such as the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, La Raza, the League of United Latin American Citizens and others, mere political slogans of support during campaign season are easily interpreted as insulting by an increasingly sophisticated Hispanic voting population.

It was the Pew Charitable Trust that said in an October 2002 report that the Hispanic electorate is emerging as a “distinct presence” on the U.S. political landscape, and that U.S. politicians who ignore Hispanic concerns do so at their peril.

That is why it is shocking to witness the current White House administration’s poor Latino record, while Bush prepares to canvass the countryside attempting to “connect” with the Hispanic community.  

The Bush administration’s Latino record, in fact, is absolutely malo.

Since Bush has been in the White House, unemployment among Hispanics has climbed 24 percent, primarily because of a Republican philosophical bent toward aiding corporate institutions whose bottom line has led to mid- to low-level employment layoffs and outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries.

Amid its Leave No Child Behind Act, the Bush administration has left just about every Hispanic child’s education behind, terminating family literacy initiatives and cutting Head Start programs – one-third of all head start enrollees are Hispanic. The Bush administration has also frozen Pell Grants and cut 100 million from Perkins Loans – Hispanic students are twice as likely to qualify for Pell. 

And the health of many Hispanic families has been in danger under the Bush’s watch. Funding for health care programs for the uninsured – over 18 million Hispanics in total and 38 percent of full-time Hispanic workers go uninsured – has been cut by 90 percent. Bush has also consistently opposed plans to restore Medicaid benefits to legal immigrant children.

As if it were not enough to live under conditions lacking adequate health care, job opportunities, and a decent system for obtaining an education, the current administration’s regressive tax policies have provided no essential tax benefits for such a growing and important Hispanic constituency.

To be sure, Bush’s 2003 tax cuts left out Hispanic families, many of whom work for wages too low to qualify. And 4.1 million Hispanic children were left behind on the child tax credit; that is, some one in three Hispanic families with children in this country will not receive a tax rebate.

So you see, los hispanos de los Estados Unidos will not continue to accept an ¡Hola! here and a ¡¿Como estas?! there while our pockets become bare, our health unprotected, and our children’s education and future disregarded. The livelihoods of the over 40 million and growing Hispanics living in the United States are currently under the Bush administration’s watch, and President Bush ignores this community at his peril.

Adolfo Carrion, Jr. is the chief executive of the County of the Bronx in New York City, representing over 1.4 million residents, a majority of whom are Hispanic. He is also the vice president of International Affairs for the County Executives of America, and treasurer for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

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Adolfo Carrion Jr.