Whatever Happened to Latino Political Power?By ROBERTO SURO JAN. 2, 2016DEMOGRAPHY is destiny, or so the saying goes, but Latinos are learning this political season that destiny can take detours.I’ve been saying this sort of thing for going on a decade and a half.
As their population in the United States surged from 35 million in 2000 to nearly 57 million, Latinos became the subjects of a feel-good political story that bathed a marginalized minority in the glow of demographic triumphalism. Acting as a cohesive political force, Latinos were supposed to power Democratic majorities for decades and enshrine the welcoming immigration policies they overwhelmingly favor.Instead, the 2016 campaign is showing how viscerally the paranoia of a majority can take aim at those gaining ground. Rather than a moment of triumph, this could be the year of the Latino eclipse. …Despite a decade of trying, Latinos are finding that legalization grows more remote. Immigration advocates who once demanded nothing less than citizenship for all 11 million unauthorized immigrants would now settle for the temporary reprieve from deportations ordered by President Obama more than a year ago. That plan covers only about half of the unauthorized population with no guarantee of legalization, and red-state governors have blocked it with a lawsuit now before the Supreme Court.Meanwhile, the immigration battle has produced no name-brand leaders, and despite sporadic successes, the new faces in advocacy, such as the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and United We Dream, have not developed into institutions of sustained influence. Worse, immigration advocacy has not produced powerful alliances for Latinos, but it has aroused some notable enemies.In opinion polls, Latinos’ partners in the Obama coalition say they favor legalization, but immigration gets scant resources from liberal interest groups compared with gun control, marriage equality or climate change. There is plenty of commitment and passion on the other side, however. Conservative Republicans consistently list a crackdown on unauthorized migration as a top priority, and the president’s executive orders have imbued the issue with the extraordinarily personal animus he provokes among his foes.A backlash was predictable given the vast demographic change that Latinos are part of: For the past five years, the majority of babies born have not been white. Middle-class economic worries and populist anger at elites added fuel to white anxieties. Then the Washington deadlock over unauthorized migration provided a target. Still, the particular ugliness of the presidential campaign was hard to see coming. With Donald J. Trump stirring the caldron, fear of terrorism is combining with nativism to produce a strain of xenophobia as virulent as any in decades.Even more surprising is the lack of a Latino response. In past election seasons young unauthorized immigrants, the Dreamers, have staged protests to demand immigration reform, but they have yet to take on Mr. Trump loudly. Given his vitriol, you would expect large demonstrations. Compared with Black Lives Matter protesters, Latinos seem passive. In that case, young people, loosely connected by social media and operating outside of institutions, took action that made race resurgent in politics and policy. Similar activism and strengthening of group bonds could still develop among Latinos. If not, then you have to wonder whether political analysts have assigned immigration too great a role in the Hispanic psyche. …Over the years, Latinos have claimed a political destiny based on their population numbers, but the numbers that count in politics are those that decide elections. On that score Latinos have a dismal record to overcome. …Roberto Suro is a professor of public policy and journalism at the University of Southern California.