Issue of undocumented immigrants in healthcare debate has potential to splinter the Latino community


LatinaLista — In a recent Pew Research Center report, “Where the Public Stands on Immigration Reform,” data was included that showed Latinos themselves did not rank immigration reform as a priority issue.


The economy, education, health care, national security and the environment all ranked higher than immigration reform. The only issue to rank lower than immigration reform was energy policy and that may have changed by now since there has been a concerted push for higher awareness about “green” jobs, products, practices, etc in the Latino community.

While some may argue about where illegal immigration ranks with Latinos, the truth is that unless that Latino/a is involved with DREAM Act or immigrant rights advocacy, the Pew Research report reflects what I’m hearing anecdotally.

Most average U.S.-born Latinos, which means second-generation and forward, are feeling resentful that some groups working on behalf of undocumented immigrants in the Latino community are painting the issue with a broad brush to include all Latinos sharing the same stand on illegal immigration.

The truth is not all Latinos do share the same feelings about illegal immigration or undocumented immigrants. While there is a strong sense that undocumented immigrants need to be treated humanely and fairly and families kept together there is a slow-moving grumble among an increasing number of U.S.-born Latinos that illegal immigration is defining the whole Latino community.

Up till now, it hasn’t been a real issue within the Latino community since the economy has overshadowed every other issue. Yet with the healthcare debate looming and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus threatening to not vote for any bill that excludes undocumented immigrants, it remains to be seen how indifferent the Latino community will remain on the issue if a boycott of the bill results in a healthcare bill not passing which could help many uninsured Latino citizens.

It is a sticky situation that the Hispanic Caucus and the leading Latino advocacy groups face: Go all out and support undocumented immigrants at the expense of Latino citizens or support the interests of Latino citizens above undocumented (Hispanic) immigrants?

This dilemma underscores the problem that has always existed within the Latino community between the have’s (those with citizenship/green cards) and the have-nots (undocumented).

The problem has been made worse when immigrant advocacy groups started springing up whose only focus was to improve the welfare of undocumented immigrants and had little interest in improving the welfare of Latino citizens.

When national Latino advocacy groups found themselves joining or trying to keep up with these new immigrant advocacy groups, there was a concentrated effort to lump all Latinos together and assume that what is good for one is good for all.

In most instances, that is the case but when it comes to bills like healthcare, that argument becomes a harder sell — and it becomes a harder decision, or should, for those Congressional representatives who want to do the right thing by undocumented immigrants but need to weigh those actions against what it does to/for Latino citizens.