| 15.4°C Dublin

Latino vote threatens Biden

Record deportations under Obama could hit minority support


Old allies: Barack Obama and Joe Biden during their time in the White House. Photo: Nicholas Kamm

Old allies: Barack Obama and Joe Biden during their time in the White House. Photo: Nicholas Kamm

Old allies: Barack Obama and Joe Biden during their time in the White House. Photo: Nicholas Kamm

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's tenure as Barack Obama's vice president could come back to bite him in his showdown with President Donald Trump.

Mr Biden desperately needs the support of Latinos who could be critical to winning the White House.

For many Latinos, Mr Biden's embrace of the Obama years is a frightening reminder of when the former president ejected about three million people illegally living in the US, earning him the moniker of "deporter in chief".

That's one reason they overwhelmingly backed Bernie Sanders during the primary. But with the Vermont senator out of the race and Mr Biden the presumptive Democratic nominee, Latinos face an agonising choice.

They could look past Mr Biden's CV and vote for him or sit out the election and risk another four years of Mr Trump, who escalated his hard-line stance this week with an executive order freezing some immigration during the coronavirus pandemic.

"The 'Let's go back to how things were' for people who feel like they have a boot on their neck, it's not always that compelling," said Marisa Franco, director and co-founder of the Latino activist group Mijente, which made its first-ever endorsement when it backed Mr Sanders for president.

The record number of deportations under the Obama administration came as he sought to show it was serious about enforcement while waiting on Congress to approve an overhaul to the immigration system. It deported a large percentage of people without criminal records while publicly saying its priority was removing criminals from the country.

Mr Obama eventually gave up on Congress and changed tactics, extending temporary legal protections to young immigrants through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which is still being challenged in federal court.

His vice president long defended the administration's immigration policy, even telling one activist in South Carolina who decried deportations, "You should vote for Trump." But just before losing the caucuses in heavily Hispanic Nevada in February, Mr Biden conceded: "We took far too long to get it right."

"I think it was a big mistake," he said.

Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said some "in the more liberal side of the Latino community" view the issue as a "litmus test they've not forgotten". But he said many see it as paling in comparison to Mr Trump's race baiting.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading progressive voice, has said she'll vote for Mr Biden in November even as she's said he needs to pay close attention to Latino issues.

Mr Sanders has endorsed him and called on his base of loyal supporters to rally around the former vice president to ensure Trump's defeat.

The Republican president isn't toning down his approach to immigration, viewing it as a way to motivate his base. His latest executive order likely guarantees immigration will remain in the spotlight.

Mr Trump's administration deported about 267,260 people in 2019, well below the single-year record of nearly 410,000 the Obama administration set in 2012. But he has increased the number of people jailed awaiting immigration court proceedings while sending around 60,000 back to Mexico while they wait for the same.

"Our community definitely understands and knows the consequences of having Trump as president," said Laura Jiménez, the Biden campaign's Latino engagement director. "This election is about our lives, our safety, our ability to thrive and be in this country and be accepted."

About 32 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote, accounting for 13.3pc of the electorate, outpacing African-Americans to become the largest minority voting bloc for the first time, according to the Pew Research Centre.

Irish Independent