Is Julián Castro “The One?”
The rise of Julián Castro is one for the ages. But the former mayor of San Antonio and Stanford grad is struggling to gain traction among a crowded field of mostly progressive candidates. Although he qualified for all three major televised Democratic debates his poll numbers remain low. Yet, he is the only Latinx candidate in the field. Let that sink in for a moment. Yes, there are several candidates of color: Booker, Harris, Hubbard, and Wang remain in the mix. Still, none—it would seem—have yet to break through and truly leverage this political moment with the urgency required.
Donald Trump, who made immigration and redefining U.S. citizenship the focal point of his administration, has proved a worthy foe even with the general election still months away. So, why hasn’t someone like Castro managed to shine? The answer is that immigration is not the only issue primary voters are concerned about (healthcare and jobs remain sky high), but also, because the topic itself is layered and complicated. Much of it has to do with country of origin and how the federal government determines our value.
According to the Pew Research Center (PRC), the largest minority group in the U.S. today are people of Latinx descent, largely from Mexico. However, the highest percent of newly arrived immigrants are from Asia. It might even come as a surprise to many, due to 24-hours news cycle, but deportations are down and border crossings by Mexicans from Mexico have been at net negative for quite some time.
That doesn’t mean their occurrence is any less devastating for the greater undocumented community. The ICE raids in Mississippi and family separation as a result of “Zero Tolerance” policies cripple families. The aftermath of the El Paso, shooting in Texas drove many undocumented people further into the shadows, despite the fact that immigrant neighborhoods are safer, and low-wage migrant workers do jobs American’s simply won’t.
Increasingly, Latinx families are living in mixed-status homes, a result of the constantly fluctuating legalization process. The most recent recession played a huge factor, which skyrocketed migrants from the Northern Triangle seeking asylum to the top of the priority list of issues for both Obama and Trump. As the NY Times editorial board astutely suggests “All Presidents Are Deporters in Chief.” The greatest difference has been the way in which Trump has openly embraced the dehumanization of migrants who arrive at the border, especially Central Americans. All this, even as the volume of asylum seekers from that region is lower compared to others. Fact Check: The Democratic Republic of the Congo has the highest.
With the greater population of immigrants being concentrated in metropolitan areas, it’s also no surprise that nearly half (45%) reside in New York, California, and Texas. The most educated upon arrival are Asian, Middle East, European and Sub-Saharan African. Those with the lowest level of education are from Mexico and Central America. Immigrants from MX and CENTAM are also the least English proficient. The future of the United States as a “minority majority” country is also quite telling. Current PRC “estimates indicate that in 2065, Asians will make up some 38% of all immigrants; Hispanics, 31%; whites, 20%; and blacks, 9%.”
That means the shifting ethnic demographic of America will require the next several presidents to have a fine-tuned approach to immigration with a thorough understanding of its impact. It also means that we as the electorate need to have a reality check about what type of leader we want at the helm. Latinx is a spectrum, and the pluralism that has evolved from the varied experiences means that building coalitions and unifying voters is a tall ask.
For Julián Castro, every second of airtime is crucial. So is the necessary discussion surrounding his policy proposals. Every moment spent tone policing his attack on current frontrunner Joe Biden, was a loss for the greater debate. Latinos need to hear more from candidates about the nuts and bolts of these plans. When we don’t it can create a pessimism about the possibility of improvement. The nature of our “reality TV” elections process makes it increasingly difficult for Castro to strike a balance between being the all-in-one candidate for Latinos and garnering the support of the non-Latinx voter. As a country, we are in desperate need of fresh perspectives about immigration policy, among other core issues. As the data shows, in order for immigrants to thrive, education is one of the largest factors, and it’s rarely mentioned in its proper context.
The lack of upward mobility and access to education for immigrants coming from Mexico and Central America has been heavily impacted by U.S. interventionist policies. Those legacy decisions wrecked economies, while propping up puppet dictatorships that forced the entire region into financial co-dependence. Through all of this, the U.S. managed to take advantage of the instability created in order to maintain its iron-clad grip on the flow of cheap labor. It allowed the lives of migrants to become disposable. It outsourced gangs that wreaked havoc once “home” by growing in size and power. It funded wars and trained death squads. It siphoned natural resources, and created systemwide bottlenecks for migrants who wished to make the upward social climb, all while controlling the flow of people heading north to the states. Over the course of the last several years this all came to a boil.
This brings us to Castro’s compelling story. His parents were unwed political activists. He and his twin brother grew up poor. His parents split, and it was his mother Rosie who championed her son’s ambitions. Through affirmative action, Julián gained access to higher education and his ability to do so altered the course of his life. His arrival onto the political scene was seen as unlikely, and yet, he prevailed. Julián returned to San Antonio to launch a career trajectory that most will never see in their lifetime. He was elected mayor of the city on his second attempt, and became the first Latino to give a keynote speech at the DNC in 2012, ultimately landing an Obama cabinet position. Just two generations in, Julián has transcended on behalf of his grandparents who were Mexican immigrants. Is that enough on either side of the timeline to allow for voters to connect to his experience? Is he more or less in touch with those of us who are foreign-born?
Julián Castro talks about decriminalizing border crossings and creating paths to citizenship for migrants. But when asked about how a Castro administration would track those waiting for their immigration hearings he suggested ankle monitors. The image of over 11M branded undocumented immigrants is jarring. His opponents have called his immigration policies as allowing for “open borders” but further analysis shows that it’s far from it. There does, however seem to be a push toward much-needed reform. He also unveiled a Marshal Plan for Central America fashioned after the Harry Truman’s 1948 aid program that helped rebuild Europe. Would it work in the Northern Triangle? With the plan lacking details, it is too soon to tell.
In fairness, all of the candidates—not just Julián, speak out against the conditions for detained migrants, but hardly anyone questions the concept of detention as a necessary tool. All that seems to change is who and why. Meanwhile, deep dives into the epidemic of human trafficking, sexual assault, and the smuggling of drugs show that these are largely problems on the U.S. side of the border. The conduct of Border Patrol agents has also received increased scrutiny as the rise in migrant deaths under their custody is examined.
As the landscape of the nation continues to evolve, will we have the political will to update our immigration policies so they actually generate progress? Or will we just end up with a “Deporter in Chief” that looks and sounds like us? The immigration debate extends even further than expected at first glance. It’s not just about DACA recipients and ICE raids and #CloseTheCamps. It’s also about the oft ignored history of the United States, and who it forces to clean up its mess (read: El Salvador Asylum Deal). As such, the result of the 2020 Election will determine the fate of Latinx politics for decades to come. The Democratic primaries are just the beginning, and its Julián’s shot to prove to voters that he is “The One.”