Obama can’t keep neglecting immigration reform, Hispanics

From Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, America celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. How have Hispanics fared in America over the past three years, since they helped to send Barack Obama to the White House?

Like many Americans, not well. 

When Obama was elected with 67 percent of the Hispanic vote, some Americans believed he was serious about his campaign promises of immigration reform, an important issue for many voters.

Three years later, chances for immigration reform are more remote than ever. Once elected, Obama chose to pursue other priorities.

Our immigration policies remain a national embarrassment: confused, confusing and getting worse. It’s a testament to the overwhelming attraction of America that people still seek to become Americans despite our immigration system.

It should be easier for workers, tourists and students to enter the country legally. Equally important, it should be easier for the Homeland Security Department to track visitors while they are here to prevent them from overstaying. 

It would be impractical to deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants believed to be living in America. Obama should suggest a path forward, such as allowing those who have not committed crimes to pay a fine, get a visa and start on a path to permanent residency.

When Obama was elected, some believed that he would take steps to improve the economic welfare of all Americans. He has certainly failed, but Hispanics have fared even worse than the population as a whole.

Historically, Hispanics have been more likely to be in poverty than other Americans, and that situation has worsened in recent years.

This month, the Census Bureau released data for 2010 showing the national poverty level to be 15 percent, up from 14 percent in 2009 and 13 percent in 2008.

Many Hispanics are in poverty not because they lack work, but in spite of hard work. Fully 12 percent of Hispanics living in poverty worked full time in 2010.

Over the past three years, unemployment in the Hispanic community has jumped, as with all demographics. In August, the U.S. unemployment rate was 9.1 percent. Among Hispanics, 11.3 percent were unemployed, up from 6.8 percent in 2008.

It is difficult to look at America, and especially at the Hispanic community, and find that the economic policies of the past three years have been successful. More than a trillion dollars of “stimulus” have seemingly left us with more problems than solutions, including uncontrolled government spending, high deficits and unnecessarily burdensome regulation.

Many low-skilled Hispanic workers have been adversely affected by the $2,000 per worker annual tax under the new health care law, which is set to take effect in 2014. Employers with more than 49 workers who do not offer insurance will be fined, so they have every incentive to stop hiring. 

The food preparation and service industry, which employs 8.5 percent of all Hispanics, lost more than 200,000 jobs each year from 2008 to 2010. Construction, which employs about 11 percent of Hispanics, has lost 1.5 million jobs from 2008 to 2010.

All Americans can share Hispanic Heritage Month, just as all can share in the American dream and in hopes for economic prosperity. Let’s hope the future holds more promise than the past three years.

Examiner columnist Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

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