Bankole: Latinos in Detroit brace for November election

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

Perhaps no other community has felt the pressures of the 2016 presidential campaign than the Latino community.

“When Mexico sends its people, they are not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, said on June 16 last year when he kicked off his campaign vowing to build a wall along the Mexican border.

For Mary Carmen Munoz, a longtime activist and a leader in southwest Detroit’s Latino community, those words hurt.

“It’s horrible. Sometimes I want to shed tears. It is sad to instigate a minority in this country with hate,” Munoz said. “We need to stand up as a people and be loud. We need not be intimidated in our fight for justice.”

Avoiding Trump by name, Munoz said, “One person seems to have the media’s attention with hateful rhetoric but there are many out there who have the same beliefs. But I believe that the voice of many of us in this nation can drown the voice of one person.”

Jane Garcia, another civic leader, agreed.

“They’ve always used us as a punching bag. It was 30 years ago that Ronald Reagan passed an immigration reform that created a pathway for five million Latinos to become citizens,” Garcia said. “That was important for the economy of this country. Can you believe that today they are calling people coming across the border ‘illegal aliens?’”

Garcia wants a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the country.

“There should be a path to citizenship for people who have been here 10, 15, 30 years paying their taxes and have committed no crime,” she said.

The “majority of the Latino community will vote for Hillary Clinton not because they trust her but because of the rhetoric of Trump.”

Jorge L. Chinea, director of the Center for Latino/Latin American Studies at Wayne State University, said there are 470, 000 Latinos in Michigan — which is 5 percent of the state population — and that 88 percent of those are citizens. He said Wayne County has the highest number of Latinos with a population of 95,260, then Kent County, which includes Grand Rapids, with 58,437; the rest are thinly spread across the state.

“Latinos who as a group have been socially marginalized, treated as undocumented or outsiders, relegated to the lowest rungs of the economic ladder or comparatively deprived of educational opportunities would be looking for candidates who could help them overcome some of these disabilities,” Chinea said of the election.

Immigration remains a divisive issue among Michigan’s Latinos, according to Chinea.

“As a historian, Trump reminds me of someone straight out of the 1930s xenophobia era. This is not the 1930s and scapegoating immigrants is not the way to solve the economy,” Chinea said.

“He will have to be more creative than that. Historically most sound mind economists will tell you immigration equals economic growth.”

Latinos in Michigan are also concerned about the economy as indicated in a report last year by the Julian Samora Institute at Michigan State University.

“Latino communities suffer from low-income levels and high poverty rates, especially among children. In Detroit, 52 percent of Latino children live in poverty. From 2009 to 2013, about 30 percent of Latinos in Michigan were living in poverty compared to 12.6 percent of whites. In the same time period the median income for Latino households in Michigan was estimated at $36,702, far below the overall statewide median household income of $47,793,” the report stated.

Elias Gutierrez, publisher of the Latino Press, said he doesn’t see much hope in the coming election.

“We were disappointed because President Obama promised and failed to enact immigration reform at the same time the Affordable Care Act was approved,” Gutierrez said.

“Insecurity is a major issue among families because of the fear that someone in your family could be deported any day. And for those who have health care they see their premiums are increasingly getting expensive.”

Gutierrez said he doubts Clinton or Trump would do anything significant for the Latino community. “None of the candidates represent us.”

Chinea said Latino support for the candidates will depend on who makes the best case.

“What each of the candidates might say or promise to persuade both ‘old’ and ‘new’ citizens in the Latino population to vote for them in the presidential elections is complicated by the previously outlined issues of immigration reform, language rights, social inclusion, community development and access to education, housing, jobs, and political participation.”

Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson” on Super Station 910 AM Wednesdays and Fridays. His column appears Mondays and Thursdays.