The Morning Forum of Los Altos opened its 64th season last week with a discussion on immigration reform.
Maria Echaveste, former deputy chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, addressed “Growing Hispanic Influence: What Happens to Immigration Reform?” in her Sept. 17 appearance.
Echaveste began with a question: Who are the Hispanics and how are they defined? They can hardly be defined by their countries of origin, she said, because they come from so many different countries and their racial makeup, too, is varied.
There are great generational gaps, according to Echaveste.Linguistically, they may not be Spanish-speaking at all. By the third generation in the U.S., only 5 percent can still speak Spanish. As to their race, based on the U.S. Census, 50 percent list themselves as “Mixed” Caucasian, 47 percent “Other.” Geographically, they are scattered throughout the country.
Since the founding of the U.S., Echaveste said, the burning questions have included who will be part of it, and who gets to come in? Benjamin Franklin, she noted, was very much opposed to German immigrants.
Generally, people find languages they aren’t familiar with frightening, she said.
The influence of Hispanics is large and growing, said Echaveste, one of the highest-ranking Latinas to serve in a presidential administration. Today, salsa sales are more prevalent than ketchup sales.
Politically, Latinos also vary, Echaveste said, particularly in three states: Texas, Florida and California. Texas has such deep roots with Mexico that Hispanics are very involved, especially on a conservative level.
California is more progressive in dealing with immigration, she noted, but still many Hispanics are poorer, generally less well-educated and question the value of participating in the democratic process because of the corruption in their countries of origin.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 set entry quotas for each country, Echaveste said, “but there will always be people looking for a better life.”
Because not many can enter the U.S. legally, there will always be an influx of illegal immigrants – hence the need for new immigration laws. As administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division from 1993 to 1997, Echaveste said she recognizes the need to protect American wages that immigration policies can affect.
Echaveste said that undocumented workers need to learn English and more about the U.S. And, she emphasized, legalization should occur only after a period of time has passed.
The Morning Forum of Los Altos is a members-only lecture series that meets at Los Altos United Methodist Church. For membership details and more information, visit morningforum.org.