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Whitman's -- and California's -- immigration hypocrisy

The controversy surrounding Meg Whitman is proof again that California increasingly relies on immigrant labor, a reality to which we must adjust by abandoning hateful rhetoric and policies.

October 04, 2010|By Ana Pérez

Poetic justice has never tasted this sweet. Meg Whitman counted on her investment of millions of dollars in the Spanish media to yield high returns in fooling Latino voters to vote for her in the race for governor. Yet she did not count on Nicandra Diaz Santillan, an undocumented Latina immigrant and a former Whitman housekeeper, to come out of the closet and expose Whitman's hypocrisy. Meg Whitman, you have nowhere to hide.

I woke up Wednesday morning to the news that Whitman had employed Diaz Santillan for nine years and then fired her as she was preparing to run for governor. As a Latina, I was disgusted to see ad after ad from the Whitman campaign on Spanish TV and radio claiming she was a friend to the Latino population. One commercial featured a Latino man explaining that Whitman had provided opportunity for him, implying she was a good candidate for Latinos. Yet on English channels, anti-immigrant sentiment spewed from the same campaign.

Immigration is by far the most divisive, most volatile and most intentionally misrepresented issue driving elections and politics today. Immigration is not about protecting the rule of law, as Whitman and others like her claim. Whitman's rhetoric on immigration only serves to fuel a race and class war in our state. This is a shortsighted, mean-spirited and deceptive strategy that will only hurt our state in the long run and put our future at risk. As Californians, we must have the courage to face our state's greatest challenge head on and lead our nation in the issue of our time: how to create more equitable economic development that will lift up the poorest in our state.

California is the largest economy in the U.S. and the eighth-largest economy in the world. Immigrants — documented or not — account for more than one-third of California's labor force; they contribute more than $30 billion in tax revenue annually. Seventy percent of noncitizen immigrants live in mixed-status households in California; that is, they live with citizens.

Our state's demographics have shifted dramatically over the past few decades. After Hawaii, California is the second state to have a majority of its population be people of color. Even in Orange County, which has historically been predominantly white, more than one-third of the upper and middle class are Latino. As the shrinking white population in our state ages, they — like the rest of us — will rely on the taxes paid by working Californians, a population increasingly made up of immigrants and their families.

While Whitman is leading with a message of immigrant xenophobia, Jerry Brown is not far behind. Like other Democrats now, Brown lacks the courage to speak as a true advocate for immigrants and their families. Brown has yet to signal that he plans to opt out of the so-called secure communities program which automatically shares all fingerprints taken by local law enforcement right after arrest with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, no matter how minor the charge. California now has the highest number of deportations, and thousands of families have been torn apart because of the program.

Our broken immigration system is a major barrier to our state's social and economic well-being. Workplace raids have destabilized communities and will no doubt impact the state negatively over the long term. We need leaders to move us forward, not followers of anti-immigration xenophobia perpetuating the current broken system.

Ana Pérez is executive director of the Central American Resource Center in San Francisco. The views expressed here are her own and in no way reflect the opinions of the Central American Resource Center.

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