By Mary Moreno
USA — In Louisiana, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia and across the country, politicians in heated races have turned to vilifying immigrants and Latinos to appeal to their white base.
Some, like Sharron Angle, have tried to create distance between the immigrants their ads say are out to destroy everything their constituents hold dear and the Latinos whose votes they’d like to curry.
Popular stock photo used by two political candidates for their anti-illegal immigration ads.
It’s understandable that conservatives want to show threatening images of brown-skinned immigrants then say it’s not meant as an attack on Latinos. Not only does it further isolate undocumented immigrants into a smaller, easier to attack group that is in less of a position to defend itself, but it also gives them leeway to continue courting the fastest growing electoral bloc.
But there is no distance between the two. Politicians like Sen. David Vitter, the scandal-plagued incumbent from Louisiana, fail to understand that using images of people who look like us to intimidate others into voting is an attack on our identity.
Recently, the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative think tank that favors restricting immigration, released a study that tried to give cover to the Angles and the Vitters of the world by saying that immigration is the most important issue only to 28 percent of Latino voters. The study also concluded that since only 14 percent share a household with a non-citizen, most Latinos don’t have a direct personal experience with immigration.
The study’s authors had to take a very narrow view to get the results they wanted.
Just because Latinos don’t live with non-citizens doesn’t mean we don’t have a direct personal connection to immigration. I was born and raised in Texas and don’t live with any non-citizens, but my personal connections to immigration are numerous.
I have family members of every immigration status, from citizens to undocumented, and so do most Latinos.
And just because immigration reform is not the most important issue to most Latinos does not mean it is not a deciding factor in voting. Attacking immigrants is a sure fire way to turn off Latino voters.
Angle, running in a close race in Nevada, made some of the ugliest, most racist ads this election cycle, and as a result only has 16 percent support among Latinos, according to a Latino Decisions poll released earlier this month.
Beyond the election, the images and words in those ads have real, dire consequences. Ads that demean the humanity of Latinos and portray us as a threat to the American way of life make us more vulnerable to violence. It is hardly surprising then that hate crimes against Latinos have risen since 2007, according to the FBI.
It seems that with every election politicians find a way to take us down a new divisive road, each time the trip a bit uglier.
Vitter is expected to easily win his election, and Angle may win, too, despite the lack of support from the Latino community, but their ads have left an indelible image in the minds of many Latino voters that will continue to reverberate beyond this election, even when they move on to another boogeyman.
Mary Moreno is senior communications specialist for Washington DC-based Center for Community Change/Campaign for Community Change.
Reporter Cindy Carcamo of the Orange County Register also noted the increase usage of political ads targeting Latino immigrants and filed this slideshow report: