A few weeks ago, I endorsed the position that blindly voting for any political party is not in the best interests of immigrants seeking compassionate immigration reform.
I suggested a hybrid posture between not voting at all and voting as a political dunce.
In short, I recommend only voting, informed and intelligently, in the elections where you can discern a clear difference between the views of candidates, including third party and independent candidates, on important issues.
Yet, voting alone is not enough.
One big key to a wise and compassionate government is an politically educated populace.
Similar to viewing matters more broadly when voting, immigration activists need to jump off the Washington-is-the-only-game-in-town bandwagon and look towards local and state elections.
Do you have energy to burn? Join a local campaign.
Do you have money to donate? Give it to a local candidate.
Local actions, after all, are the foundation of grassroots political change.
A Short History Of Escondido
Here’s an example from my neck of the woods.
A few years ago, I noted the tendency of Escondido Chief of Police, Jim Maher, towards the second coming of Joe Arpaio.
Likewise, I have pointed out that the City of Escondido civic leadership is a wannabe Arizona SB 1070-style local government.
In short, having practiced immigration law in Escondido for over two decades, I do not have a high opinion of the city’s attitudes towards immigrants.
So despite all the hoopla from immigrant supporters back in June when the City of Escondido took up the issue of a shelter for young Central American migrants, my optimism was limited. Based on previous encounters, I knew the proposal faced a bumpy and uphill road.
The reality is Escondido has not offered hospitality to immigrants in the past. Why would they do so now?
The Escondido Youth Refugee Shelter: A Local Or National Battle?
Since the Murrieta uprising against local placement of Central American refugeees, the issue has blurred the lines between local and national politics.
Most activists have centered their attention on federal aspects of the dispute. Yet, a large percentage of the grassroots battles are at the local level.
As in other jurisdictions, from the outset of the Escondido refugee housing proposal, a 96-bed shelter for the unaccompanied immigrant children from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol, has seemed unlikely for Escondido local government officials to support.
In spite of Escondido’s large Hispanic population, comprising 49 percent of the city’s 150,000 residents, the City Council has not accepted the Latino community as a full partner.
As a immigration attorney, I’ve battled through many anti-immigrant measures.
Still, I hope the City Council votes affirmatively. Such an outcome would signal the political tide has turned for immigrant families not only in Escondido, but also in Northern San Diego County . . . and beyond.
However, I suspect the Council will vote nay, an outcome not likely to shock anyone living in the greater San Diego region.
Why Local Politics Matter To Immigrants
In July, following city protocol, the Escondido Planning Commission took the first look. It rejected the proposal by a 6-0 vote. From there, the matter proceeded to the City Council.
(A quick note. In many cities and townships, secondary political positions like planning commissions are filled with the blessing of elected officials. These appointees usually adhere closely to the views of their City Council colleagues. Just another reason to get involved locally.)
On September 10, 2014, the City Council reviewed the Planning Commission recommendation. The issue was rescheduled to a new date to give them time for further review. The Council plans to take a final vote on October 22, 2014.
The arguments made against the shelter at the September hearing were predictable.
One resident who lives near to the proposed shelter site noted, “My neighborhood is quiet and I wanted to stay that way.” He added, “Protests, spray paint on the wall or kids getting out and running away, are they going to run away to my back yard?”
On the other hand, proponents asserted since the shelter would create about 100 jobs and inject $5- $7-million into in the Northern San Diego economy, “Why shouldn’t the city welcome this facility with open arms?”
Being close to the November 4, 2014 elections, the issue has become a rallying cry for some local immigrants.
The incumbent mayor faces a challenge from a longtime local Hispanic activist, Olga Diaz. In my view, she represents a clear choice who could make a positive difference for immigrants.
If you would like to learn more about her, or if you have spare time or money, click here for her mayoral candidacy web site: Diaz For Escondido Mayor.
Her election would push us a step forward in turning the political tide for Escondido and Northern San Diego immigrant residents.
How To Make A Political Difference: Think Globally, Act Locally
Above, I noted two examples how local elections affect immigrant families.
First, I noted the secret world of political appointments. There are countless boards, commissions, and committees made up of individuals who are political appointees. They wield local power, and their decisions affect immigrants in many ways not obvious to the uninformed.
Second, by helping immigrant supporters win elective offices on city councils, county supervisor boards, and the like, local decisions such as shelters for unaccompanied migrant children will stand a greater chance of success.
Third, another equally significant reason to get involved in local campaigns is that most candidates for national offices start at the local and state level. They work their way up the political ladder.
To date, many have used the lower seats as stepping stones, mastering policy obfuscation and media manipulation.
If immigrant advocates become their core supporters at the local level, there are at least two potentially positive benefits.
By getting involved with these candidates sooner, advocates should be able to spot two-faced politicians earlier. This might prevent those, who have not kept their words and earned the loyalty of immigrant communities, out of state and national offices – before they can do more harm from Congress.
To be sure, some politicians are slicker than others and will not exhibit overtly recognizable tactics of manipulation tactics until they reach higher elected positions. But on the whole, such candidates will become an endangered species.
Fourth, by actively demonstrating the importance of grassroots and community support during local elections, candidates’ reliance upon such political bases in future campaigns for state and national offices becomes a higher priority essential to victory. They will need to weigh the trade-off of selling their political souls to lobbyists and deserting the needs of the grassroots public more closely before jumping ship.
By Itself, Voting Is Not The Solution: Participate, Don’t Just Spectate
Speaking loudly at rallies, demonstrations, and protests has a critical role in American politics. But such actions are not the end-all of political participation.
Get involved in political campaigns. When a candidate is in a tight race, and is being outspent by his or her opponent, the counter force is people power.
Candidates need folks to call potential voters, to put signs on lawns, to host backyard fundraisers, to knock on doors, to hand off brochures and flyers.
Voting, Alone, Is Not The Answer:
Moreover, carrying a big stick has its purposes.
The big stick for most immigrant supporters in the political arena is their right to vote.
When they vote smart.
The smart use of voting is not rubber stamping Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dum.
The smart use of voting is not just rolling dice and hoping for the best.
In some cases, the smart use of voting is to refrain from voting in certain elections, in certain races, and in certain districts.
It may require voting for an independent candidate or writing-in the name of a person not on the ballot.
Smart voting, in short, requires knowing when to hold and when to fold if necessary.
Smart voting is not falling for the empty rhetoric that you must vote for the lesser of two evils.
The lesser of two evils is a two-party brainwashing slogan designed to make you feel guilty about exercising independent judgment.
Eventually, if immigration advocates are going to be part of a solution which reduces the number of elections where the only two choices represent two evils, it must begin with identifying and promoting candidates in local elections.
Given the possibility that real compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform may be several years away, those running for lower office today may be those in Congress tomorrow, focusing energies on less glamorized elections should be a more important priority for immigrant rights advocates.
Think global, act local.
It beats wasting time arguing whether to believe the president or not.
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics