Thursday, August 05, 2004

Hispanic Summit: Political Advantage Without Political Leadership

I've spent quite a bit of time trashing the Bush Administration's recent Hispanic Summit (here, here and here), so now I'm happy give some bandwidth to Maria Echaveste, President Clinton's former Deputy Chief of Staff and currently senior fellow at the American Progress Action Fund and a member of the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

Echaveste argues that "the summit was one more example of how the Bush administration never misses an opportunity to seek political advantage without actually exhibiting leadership."

We've already discussed here the "photo-op" nature of the event while Hispanic workers continue to die in high numbers:
What else can one conclude when the big news of the summit was a grant in the sum of $2.75 million to Esperanza USA, a faith-based Hispanic nonprofit organization, to work in nine U.S. cities with at-risk Hispanic youth? While a worthwhile goal, it is hard not to see the political opportunism at play here when two of the cities are Miami and Orlando in hotly contested Florida. Even the declaration signed with Mexico's secretary for foreign affairs, also announced at the summit, was all talk and no action. That declaration simply affirmed both countries' commitment to improving workplace protections for Mexican workers in the United States, without any new resources or enhanced enforcement efforts.
Echaveste points out however, that if the Bush administration was really interested in helping Hispanic workers, there was something concrete they could have done:
Chao might have used this summit to announce administration support for the AgJobs bill sponsored by Sens. Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican, and Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat. Enactment of this bill would do more to save lives and prevent injuries than Chao's thinly veiled political pandering of last week. Why? Simply because one of the three most dangerous industries in the country is agriculture, and Latinos comprise more than 90 percent of farmworkers. Yet because 80 percent of that workforce is undocumented, many workers are afraid to speak up when facing work-safety issues for fear of deportation.

The AgJobs bill would grant temporary legal status to approximately 500,000 farmworkers and an opportunity to obtain permanent legal status if those workers continue to work in agriculture for a specified period of time. And because agriculture is so dependent on a foreign workforce, the bill would also update the existing foreign temporary worker program to enable employers to recruit the workers they need in a legal manner, and no longer be complicit in the underground labor market that is the underpinning of agriculture.
The bill has the support of organized labor and the agriculture industry. So why are Bush and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) holding it up?
The vocal but small anti-immigrant wing of the Republican Party appears to be more important to Bush than finding solutions to intractable problems.