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What an immigrant would say to Boehner

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By Edward Schumacher-Matos
Friday, November 5, 2010

Dear Rep. John Boehner:

Please accept congratulations from an immigrant on your victory this week. I think I speak on behalf of all immigrants when I say I was moved by your tears Tuesday night as you realized that a barkeeper's son is likely to become speaker of the House.

It was a great American moment - the sort that brought so many of us here, too, through the force of our own efforts, to try to better ourselves, our families and, we hope, our country - this country, the United States of America.

I myself came as an adopted son of an American stepfather, and he was from your state: Ohio. His family was the Schumachers from Cincinnati, and just the other night I was looking at pictures of myself as an 8-year-old visiting my Uncle Ray's corn farm outside town, near the old Baldwin piano factory, on the banks of the Ohio River. I say "my" Uncle Ray because the whole family took me and my Colombian mother in as a part of them, with the generosity that Americans are so famous for. Just writing this makes me tear up, too.

But there is something that worries me and most immigrants, judging from the election results. It has to do with your party. Why do Republicans make us feel like the enemy, the non-Americans, the people you want to take the country back from?

Many Republicans see immigration as a Democratic plot to register new voters. And, yes, most immigrant groups today - like the Irish and Italians and others before us - tend to vote Democrat, but that is because the Democrats reach out more to us.

The irony is that most immigrants are probably natural Republicans. Most of us favor conservative social values and the work ethic. Even those of us with little education, like so many Mexicans and Central Americans, are entrepreneurial. We start businesses more than native-born Americans - 70 percent more, according to a Kauffman Foundation index.

My mother ran her own beauty shop in Columbus, Ga., in a shopping mall and then in the back of her house until finally she retired at the age of 83. My brother owns a uniform supply business in Tallahassee. He's a Tea Party sympathizer, and they both vote Republican.

My sister is an independent real estate agent in Atlanta, and I started my own chain of now-defunct Spanish-language newspapers in Texas. I am the only family flop as a businessperson, which may say something about the ability of journalists to meet a payroll. But my sister and I have voted both Republican and Democrat.

And yet your party is getting wiped out with the immigrant vote. You lost the Senate because an astounding 90 percent of the Latino vote in Nevada went to Harry Reid, 86 percent of it in California went to Barbara Boxer, and 81 percent voted for Michael Bennet in Colorado, according to polling by Latino Decisions.

And don't be fooled by the success of your second-generation candidates. Latino Decisions reported that Marco Rubio got only 40 percent of the non-Cuban Latino vote for senator in Florida. In gubernatorial races against Anglos, Susana Martinez got 38 percent of the Latino vote in New Mexico and Brian Sandoval won a mere 15 percent in Nevada.

Nikki Haley of South Carolina joins fellow Republican Bobby Jindal in Louisiana as the nation's second Indian American governor, but Asians in general, and Indian Americans in particular, vote overwhelmingly Democratic. So do Caribbean and African immigrants.

Think about the often hateful language many Republicans use about us and the measures you push, such as imposing quotas, restricting government services and ending birthright citizenship.

A letter sent two weeks ago by the seven Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee asking the Department of Homeland Security how much money it would need to deport every illegal immigrant the government encounters represents a dangerous escalation in the campaign against unauthorized immigrants.

Imagine the tension in streets across America if you started massively ripping out and deporting our family members and friends.

And so I beg you, Mr. Boehner, not only out of party self-interest but out of concern for national peace, to get your party to tone down the rhetoric. Yes, the illegality has to end, and new enforcement systems are in place. It is now up to you to help constructively integrate even the illegal immigrants here in a way that best benefits our great country.

Edward Schumacher-Matos is syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group. His e-mail address is edward.schumachermatos@yahoo.com.


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