A poll by the University of Houston was released last week on the prospects for the March primary elections and the November general election in Texas. The poll unsurprisingly projected that Biden and Trump were headed to another showdown in November, and that Trump was leading Biden in that rematch by 9% in Texas. However, what I suspect the Biden campaign team found shocking was that Biden was losing to Trump with Latino voters by a 47-41 margin. Only 55% of Latino Democratic primary voters said they were committed to vote for Biden. The other 45% were undecided.
I have watched for years as pundits and political consultants from both parties, who were mostly white, have made assumptions about how Latino voters felt about issues and how they would likely vote. The near universal mistake these consultants and pundits have made for years was that immigration was the paramount issue for the Latino community and that they wanted more liberal immigration laws. Both assumptions were wrong.
First, there is no monolithic “Latino community.” Those of Mexican American heritage are the predominant group but there are also Americans from every other country in Central and South America. And they all have very different perspectives on just about every aspect of life, and especially on politics.
Even among those whose families originally immigrated from Mexico there are vast differences. I have a Latino friend who is a sixth-generation Texan. He joked with me one day that he didn’t know he was a “minority” until he went to college. I can assure you that his views on immigration are very different than a recent immigrant from Mexico who is trying to get the other family members into the country.
Also, immigration is hardly the only issue that Latinos are concerned about. I had dinner with some members of the Texas House of Representatives a couple of years ago about the prospect of starting a new party in Texas. The group was evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. All but one of the Democrat members were Latino.
I went around the room asking each one why they were dissatisfied with their existing party affiliation. One of the Latino members told me that his family were devout Catholics and opposed to abortion. He was tired of his party “looking down” on him because of his faith. Another said, “Defund the police my a#$, half my family works in law enforcement.” Another shared that his family was in the oilfield service business, and he was worried that Biden’s green energy agenda was going to hurt their family’s business and the economy of the area he represented. Immigration never came up during the dinner.
In a recent UT poll, 71% of Latinos supported “tightening U.S. border security and providing Border Patrol with increased technology, infrastructure, and personnel.” That was not far behind whites at 85% and African Americans at 81%. It seems clear that Biden’s lax border policies are hurting him in Texas across every demographic group, including Latinos.
But there is nuance in the polling. While Latinos generally feel about the same as their non-Latino neighbors regarding the state of the border, their views on other immigration issues vary significantly. For example, only 29% support the immediate deportation of immigrants here illegally, with 41% strongly opposed. That compares to 51% of whites who support immediate deportation. Similarly, 68% of Latinos support a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants compared to 56% of whites. 61% of Latinos support harsher penalties for employers who hire workers here illegally compared to 82% of whites. Latinos also support a continuation of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, often referred to as Dreamers) at significantly higher levels than whites.
All of this suggests that a majority of Latinos, and at least a significant plurality of the rest of Americans, want the government to control the border but at the same time want a more rational system to process new immigrants and those who are already here. Biden could thread the needle on immigration but for some inexplicable reason has persisted in his lax border policies.
I do not subscribe to the theory that the president’s intention was to bring new Democratic voters into the country or the even nuttier “white replacement” conspiracy theories. Those of us who have worked in elections know that trying to register and get non-citizens to the polls is virtually impossible, at least at any scale that could affect the outcome of an election. When a third of American citizens are still not voting in presidential elections, it is much easier to get qualified voters to the polls. By the way, most of those who do not vote would likely favor Democratic candidates. Also, many of the Latino immigrants coming into the country have views on many issues, such as abortion, that are at odds with the Democratic platform.
This New York Times story attempted to put a noble face on Biden’s immigration political disaster. But even these Biden-friendly reporters struggled to concoct a rational explanation for his border policies. I think the simpler explanation is that every time party control of the White House changes, the new president feels the need to reverse all of his predecessor’s policies, whether they were working or not. Which is why we get little to nothing done. Trump was obsessed with repealing Obamacare, notwithstanding that it was supported by a growing majority of Americans throughout his presidency and most analyses showed that it slowed the increase in healthcare costs.
Biden came to the White House with the same mindset. Had he simply admitted that some of Trump’s border policies were working and then pressed to pass some badly needed reforms to the immigration system, he would not be in the mess he is now. But as Thomas Paine insightfully observed, “A man under the tyranny of party spirit is the greatest slave upon the earth, for none but himself can deprive him of the freedom of thought.”
Where is Thomas Paine when we need him?
Bill King is a businessman and lawyer, and is a former opinion columnist and editorial board member at the Houston Chronicle. He has served in a number of appointed and elected positions, including mayor of his hometown. He writes on a wide range of public policy and political issues. Bill is the author of “Unapologetically Moderate.”