Peggy Sands Orchowski
Republican and Democratic Hispanic delegates, speakers and office holders were clearly visible and heard during the back-to-back Republican and Democratic presidential nominating conventions in July in Cleveland, Ohio, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Both parties’ platforms contained policies of particular interest to Hispanics.
While many of the platform positions reflected media stereotypes, there were surprises as well. The biggest difference in platform policies involved higher education and immigration.
The most audacious Democratic platform proposals are to “make community colleges free” and all college students “debt free” by graduation. “Money and costs should not stand in the way of getting a college degree or credential nor should college debt hold you back when you graduate” the platform states in a separate section “Making Debt Free Colleges a Reality.”
The Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton calls it the “New College Compact.” “Every student should be able to go to college debt free, and working families should not have to pay any tuition.” The call for “bold new investments by federal and states in education (‘investments’ meaning usually revenue raised from taxes or government bonds)” as well as “colleges holding the line on costs.”
This reflects a finding by a comprehensive survey of Latino voter issue priorities by Latino Decisions and the Latino Victory Project presented to the Democratic Convention’s Hispanic Caucus on March 27. “College affordability” was identified to be the top issue of Democratic Latino voters in battleground states: 71 percent,” Matt Barretto the co-founder of Latino Decisions pointed out.
The Republican Party platform’s higher education focus, however, was on the rising costs of college; a subsection of the platform titled College Costs. “The cost of a college education has long been on an unsustainable trajectory” the platform claims. But Republicans strongly believe that government “investments” are not the solution. “The federal government should not be in the business of originating student loans but rather private sector participation in student financing should be restored. Regulations that increase college costs must be challenged against its negative economic impact on students.”
The Republican platform on higher education also focuses on perceived increasing violations of First Amendment “freedom of speech” rights violation at U.S. universities. It also addresses what republicans see as the abuse of Title IX to withhold educational funds for “wrongly defined sex discrimination” accusations.
The Democratic platform does not address the campus “political correctness, micro-aggressions and limited free speech” issues that have been the subject of much recent media coverage, however. Instead, they dedicate two subsections on issues of higher education that are of importance to many Hispanic heritage students: “Cracking Down on Predatory For-profit Schools” and “Supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions.”
Closing down for-profit “professional” schools is a tricky issue for Latinos although none of the Democratic delegates addressed the conundrum during the convention. But many Hispanic families find the shorter study times and professional certificates of good for-profits can better fit their needs than a vague bachelor’s degree in a ffour- to six-year college that may not lead to specific professional jobs. The platform promises to strengthen HSIs and restore year-round Pell funding that some democrats have routinely voted against.
It would seem by the extent of media coverage that the biggest presidential election issue of 2016 is immigration. In the Latino Decisions survey it ranked as the second top policy issue for Democratic Battleground Latino voters. But it ranked only eighth (out of nine issues) for Republican Latinos. “Protecting America from Terrorism,” however, was the second highest ranked presidential candidate issues for Hispanic Republican voters and was tied for fifth by Democratic Latinos.
Despite the minute media attention to candidate Trump’s every twist and turn on immigration, however, immigration reform only warranted a few paragraphs in the Republican platform while it took up more than four pages in the Democratic platform.
Under the sections “Government Reform” and “Immigration and the rule of Law” the 2016 GOP platform makes it clear, as it did in 2012, that Republicans consider immigration policy to be about protecting American jobs and national interests and that illegal immigration must be “reduced.” As in 2012, the Trump GOP platform states: “We oppose any form of amnesty” and “consider securing the borders, all ports of entry and enforcing our immigration laws to be our highest priority.” Those include making e-verify a national requirement and sanctioning “sanctuary” cities.
In 2012, a media firestorm centered on the GOP’s platform phrase “will encourage illegal aliens to return home voluntarily.” Democrats labeled it “self deportation.” That phrase is not included in the 2016 platform.
In 2012 also, the platform stated: “The (700 miles of) double-layered fencing on the border…must finally be built.” In the 2016 platform that phrase reads: “We support building a wall along the entirety of our southern border.” The replacement of the word “fencing” for “wall” reflects Trump’s major campaign vow to build a big wall on the Mexican border. It is this year’s platform firestorm that the New York Times labels “extreme dangerous nativism.”
The Democratic platform on immigration, on the other hand, comprises four pages focused on “Fixing Our Broken Immigration System” through comprehensive immigration reform. It “supports legal immigration within reasonable limits that meets the needs of families, communities and the economy and maintains the U.S. role as a beacon of hope for people seeking safety, freedom and security.” “Immigration enforcement must be humane and consistent with our values,” including “incorporating completely immigrants already living in the country. The Platform calls on ensuring that all immigrants regardless of immigration status have access to quality health care and that DREAMers will have expedited pathways to citizenship including service in the military. Bars limiting legalization for members of mixed status families will be removed.” The policy shows the clear hand of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and platform committee member Luis Gutierrez (IL).
In the end, the platforms were passed easily the first day of the Republican and Democratic conventions with little floor discussion of the policies. They had been argued, tested and tweaked well before the conventions, often in public forums. They mean little in reality since no candidate of either party is required to campaign on the platform policies. But they are an exercise in prioritizing party issues and sentiments. Reaction to platform policies during the campaign can determine the priorities of the new president in their all important first 100 days. •