Both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have been trying to court Florida’s Latino voters ahead of next week’s primary. Romney has launched Spanish-language ads highlighting Gingrich’s remarks in a 2007 speech in which he suggested Spanish was a "language of the ghetto." Meanwhile, Gingrich has released an ad accusing Romney of being the most anti-immigrant candidate in the Republican field. We’re joined by Marcos Restrepo, a reporter with the Florida Independent. "The rhetoric that’s been coming out about immigrants only worried about immigration, that it’s the only issue that really hits home with Latinos and Latino voters, that’s not true," Restrepo says. "I live here in South Florida, and we’re having a hard time with issues like jobs, unemployment, education and housing." Restrepo says the candidates should also address the DREAM Act and the free trade agreements with Central and South American nations. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to the Republican presidential debates. During the second debate in Florida last night, one of the first issues to come up was immigration. Both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have been trying to court Florida’s large Latino vote ahead of next week’s primary. Romney has launched Spanish-language ads, highlighting Gingrich’s remarks in a 2007 speech in which he suggested Spanish was a, quote, "language of the ghetto." Meanwhile, Gingrich has released an ad accusing Romney of being the most anti-immigrant candidate in the Republican field. At last night’s debate, Romney was asked to respond to Gingrich’s ad.
MITT ROMNEY: That’s simply inexcusable. That’s inexcusable. And actually, Senator Marco Rubio came to my defense and said that ad was inexcusable and inflammatory and inappropriate. Mr. Speaker, I’m not anti-immigrant. My father was born in Mexico. My wife’s father was born in Wales. They came to this country. The idea that I’m anti-immigrant is repulsive. Don’t use a term like that. You can say we disagree on certain policies. But to say that enforcing the U.S. law to protect our borders, to welcome people here legally, to expand legal immigration, as I approve, that that’s somehow anti-immigrant is simply the kind of over-the-top rhetoric that has characterized American politics too long. And I’m glad that Marco Rubio called you out on it. I’m glad you withdrew it. I think you should apologize for it. And I think that you should recognize that having differences of opinions on issues does not justify labeling people with highly charged epithets.
NEWT GINGRICH: I’ll tell you what—I’ll give you an opportunity to self-describe. You tell me what language you would use to describe somebody who thinks that deporting a grandmother or a grandfather from their family—just tell me the language. I’m perfectly happy for you to explain what language you would use.
MITT ROMNEY: Mr. Speaker, I think I described following the law as it exists in this country, which is to say, I’m not going around and rounding people up and deporting them. What I said was, people who come here legally get a work permit. People who do not come here legally do not get a work permit. Those who don’t get work will tend, over time, to self-deport. I’m not going to go find grandmothers and take them out of their homes and deport them. Those are your words, not my words. And to use that rhetoric suggests to people that, somehow, if you’re not willing to keep people here who violated the law, that you’re anti-immigrant. Nothing could be further from the truth.
AMY GOODMAN: Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich debating last night in Jacksonville, Florida.
To talk more about immigration and the Republican race, we go to Miami, where we’re joined by Marcos Restrepo, a Florida reporter with the Florida Independent. He’s been a reporter writing in both Spanish and English in Colombia and Florida for more than 15 years.
Talk about this debate and what is being raised, Marcos.
MARCOS RESTREPO: Well, last night, the Republicans jumped on the issue of immigration right away. And what I want to pick up on is, they were talking about the grandmother and the grandfather, that deportation, because Mitt Romney brought that up this week, self-deportation. And what that’s really hiding, if you want to put it that way, is attrition through enforcement. It’s a model where you deny immigrants or undocumented immigrants any kinds of services—health, education, work—any kind of services, any possibilities to make a living, with the idea that they’ll leave of their own recognition: "Well, this is horrible for me and my family. I’m leaving." But the Immigration Policy Center issued a brief yesterday that says that basically there is no real evidence that attrition through enforcement really does work.
So, I think the heart of the debate last night also didn’t touch on issues like the DREAM Act. Mitt Romney this week said he would go for the DREAM Act, a piece of legislation that’s been sitting in Congress for at least 10 years now, and it would allow a path to authorized residency for people who came to the U.S. under 16, who have lived here more than—most of their lives, OK, either by going to a higher education or going into the military. What Romney—excuse me, Gingrich said this week is he won’t accept the DREAM Act unless it only allows young people to go into the military.
So the issues of attrition through enforcement, denying the DREAM Act, and also the rhetoric that’s been coming out about immigrants only worried about immigration, that it’s the only issue that really hits home with Latino and Latino voters, that’s not true. I live here in South Florida, and we’re having a hard time with issues like jobs, unemployment, education and housing. The Pew Hispanic Center put out a report just yesterday how Hispanics have—were polled. Over 1,200 Latinos or Hispanics were polled throughout the U.S. And the understanding we have of our situation is that we’ve been harder hit by other groups by this Great Recession and the housing—the bursting of the housing bubble.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Marcos Restrepo, I’d like to turn to a clip of Rick Santorum at the debate last night.
MARCOS RESTREPO: Sure.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Santorum criticized the Obama administration’s policy towards Central and South America. He singled out Honduras, in particular.
RICK SANTORUM: Our policy in Central and South America under this administration has been abysmal. The way we have treated, in particular, countries like Honduras—Honduras, which stood up for the rule of law, which threw out a would-be dictator who was using the Chávez playbook from Venezuela in order to try to run for re-election in Honduras. And the United States government, instead of standing behind the pro-democra—the people in the parliament, the people in the Supreme Court, who tried to enforce the constitution of Honduras—instead of siding with them, the Democrats, President Obama sided with two other people in South America—excuse me, in Central America and South America. Chávez and Castro and Obama sided against the people of Honduras. This is a consistent policy of siding with the leftists, siding with the Marxists, siding with those who don’t support democracy.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Marcos Restrepo, your response, and how this plays in Florida, not only in South Florida, but also in Central Florida, which is largely Puerto Rican in population?
MARCOS RESTREPO: Well, the issues around that coup in Honduras two to three years ago, one thing I think—I’m pretty sure Santorum is wrong. I think the Obama administration, through Hillary Clinton, sided with the coup, alleging, yeah, that the president at that time had broken the law. But I’m not an expert on that, so I don’t want to get deep into that.
What I do understand is that foreign policy, U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, let’s say, through free trade agreements that all the GOP candidates on the stage supported last night, don’t really fulfill the most pressing issues for countries like where I come from, like Colombia. Now, again, issues like immigration still play important—a very important role for Florida voters, even if they’re Cuban or Puerto Rican. Latino Decisions issued a poll this week, over a thousand Latino/Latina voters, 500 of them here in Florida. And a little over 40 percent of those voters said, yeah, immigration was important, but jobs is also important, unemployment is also important, housing is also important.
The thing is that we can’t separate immigration from other issues, and that includes foreign policy. So when you have people kind of like Rick Santorum describing what happened in Central America, that the Obama administration is linked to Marxists and Chávez in an unconditional manner, or that the free trade agreement with Colombia is like the best solution for Colombia, I think that’s wrong. The Colombian press has covered that agreement that was recently approved, that free trade agreement, and there’s several issues there. We’re not just talking about some mild violations of human rights; we’re talking over 2,900 murders of union leaders in Colombia over a period of 25 years. Only 10 percent of those cases, of those murders, were ever taken to the courts. Convictions have not been, you know, fast in coming. And that’s just in the Colombian case. It’s not just an issue of—
AMY GOODMAN: And we’re going to have to leave it there, Marcos Restrepo, as we come to the end of the show, reporter with the Florida Independent, covering social justice issues, speaking to us from Miami.