Latinos who are frustrated with Congress’ failure to adopt comprehensive immigration reform are being targeted with a lie: that the best strategy to achieve their goal is to stop participating in the democratic process. Don’t vote. Be silent. Go uncounted to teach the politicians a lesson. But that approach cannot and will not work. No group in the United States has ever forwarded its political agenda by auto-disenfranchisement.
Last year there was a don’t-fill-out-the-census campaign. This latest effort to marginalize Latinos has taken the form of a “Don’t Vote” ad drive in Nevada, sponsored by an organization cynically misnamed Latinos for Reform. The group, led by conservative pundit and former Republican Party official Robert de Posada, is asking Latinos to punish Democrats for failing to pass immigration reform by staying home Nov. 2. If Latinos follow that advice, they will harm the reelection chances of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is locked in a tight race in Nevada. But the ads cleverly do not encourage Latinos to vote for Reid’s Republican rival, Sharron Angle — a request that might backfire given that Angle has run ads demonizing illegal immigrants and supports SB 1070, Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant law.
De Posada gets points for Machiavellian thinking. It takes both creativity and chutzpah to encourage Latinos to give a boost to candidates who actually oppose the reform they seek. Here’s Reid on immigration: “We must not forget that we are a nation founded on and built by immigrants. Our grandparents and great-grandparents came here to pursue the American dream, and we should honor that proud heritage as we work to reform our immigration laws.” Here’s Angle on immigration: “Every state should have a sheriff like Joe Arpaio. Go, Arizona, go.”
Still, the “Don’t Vote” ad (which was pulled off the air Tuesday by Univision) is bound to hit a nerve; many Latinos are angry that immigration reform has not materialized. What they need to remember is that it is being held up by the committed opposition of congressional Republicans, and that opposition is tethered to a measure of public sentiment. The country remains conflicted on the issue.
Now is the time for more political participation by supporters of immigration reform, not less. No one is urging “tea partyers” to stay at home on election day; Sarah Palin is crisscrossing the country to get out the conservative vote. President Obama is rallying Democratic support from coast to coast. Latino voters should use their ballots to set an agenda, not shrink from one.