This election cycle, Democrats made a grave miscalculation. They believed foreign-born and Hispanic voters would look at the Trump administration’s inhumane immigration policies and vote for Joe Biden. The error cost them big. Even I was surprised by Trump’s success with Hispanics, especially in Miami-Dade County, where I live and where Trump lost by double digits four years ago. Biden took the presidency fair and square, but there was no Blue Wave.
So why did so many Hispanics cast their ballots for such a vehemently anti-immigrant president? As James Carville famously quipped, “it’s the economy, stupid.” A recent survey by the advocacy group UnidosUS determined that, while 78 percent of Latino voters are concerned about Trump’s treatment of immigrants, the economy took them to the polls. Many Hispanics weren’t personally impacted by Trump’s immigration policies, so the issue took a back seat to the economic fallout of COVID-19 lockdowns. Fifty-three percent of Hispanic households contain someone who’s been laid off or taken a pay cut, compared to just 38 percent of white households.
But they also voted for Trump because of what he represents: success, strength, and an “I alone can fix it” ethos. In Florida, large populations of right-leaning Cuban, Venezuelan and Colombian immigrants are old enough to remember how socialism destroyed their native countries. The leaders of these countries may be authoritarian strongmen, similar to Trump. But that fact is obscured by Trump’s reputation as a staunch capitalist. There are roughly 2.3 million Hispanic entrepreneurs in the United States, according to New American Economy. Many would never vote for a “socialist” candidate, which Republicans successfully, if unfairly, labeled Biden.
To win over these communities, Biden and the Dems must do more for the economy — and for Hispanics — than Trump did. I’m a long-standing member of the Republican Party and staunch conservative, but I’m personally encouraged by many of Biden’s Cabinet picks. Janet Yellen, Biden’s pick for U.S. Treasury secretary, is known for her bipartisanship and leadership after the Great Recession. During her tenure at the Federal Reserve, unemployment fell more than at any other time in modern history. That’s something Hispanic households suffering job losses should welcome.
Biden is also giving Hispanics more representation at the highest level of government. Xavier Becerra’s perspective as the first Latino Secretary of Health and Human Services will be crucial, given the disproportionate rate at which Latinos have been affected by Covid-19. And as the first Latino head of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas has the unique opportunity to show immigration policy can be both humane and economically beneficial — especially amidst a recession.
Immigrants and Hispanic Americans fill many of the frontline essential worker positions, including those in health care and the food supply chain. But even now, despite a national unemployment rate of 6.7 percent, our country lacks enough doctors, nurses, home health aides, field workers and meat packers. Further, immigrants were key to pulling us from the last recession. Immigrant entrepreneurs accounted for a large share of the new small businesses founded between 2008 and 2011, according to New American Economy. As a group, immigrants pay $458.7 billion in taxes annually. More than 3.2 million are entrepreneurs and they employ nearly 8 million people in this country. Florida benefits from $3.1 billion of those tax dollars and 846,516 of those jobs alone.
We need smart, practical immigration solutions if we’re going to get out of this pandemic and this recession. That means treating immigrants, their children and their communities as assets, not enemies. Over the last four years, the Trump administration introduced some of the most inhumane immigration policies this country has ever seen. His “zero-tolerance policy” ripped thousands of scared children from the arms of their exhausted parents at the border, and now, at least 628 of those children still don’t know where their parents are. Under his leadership, 51 people died in ICE custody and the COVID-19 infection rate in immigrant detention facilities has grown to 13 times than the national average. Meanwhile, the reports of forced hysterectomies being performed on detained migrant women are reminiscent of some of history’s most despicable events. It’s a disgraceful legacy the world won’t soon forget.
My fellow Hispanics, no matter where they’re from, shouldn’t either. We need leaders committed to our nation’s legacy: both as a bastion of opportunity and a safe haven for the weary. Americans have always valued independent self-starters, but we also value decency, community and neighbors looking out for neighbors.
To be an American means balancing individualism with acts in service of the greater good. If Joe Biden takes this to heart, he’ll be one step closer to earning the trust of more than 60.5 million Hispanic Americans — now the largest minority group of eligible voters. He says he’s a president for all Americans. Let’s hope he’s right.
Al Cardenas is former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and co-founder of the Institute of Politics at Florida State University.