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The Tucson Citizen

Hispanics Should Look Beyond Bush Lip Service

By Jos Luis Santos

May 15, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The Tucson Citizen. All Rights Reserved.

[Second of a two-part series]

In thinking about how I was going to deliver the final lowdown to this two-part series on how President Bush's agenda is going to affect the Latino community, I thought I would simply go to the facts. The facts rest in the dollar figures allocated to the programs Latinos care most about. Just follow the money, especially in the case of education.

Bush has remarked on numerous occasions that education is a major priority for him and his administration. I believe him to a point. The point at which we entertain the dollar amounts in his 2002 budget plan.

The plan proposed to increase discretionary budget authority for the U.S. Department of Education to $44.5 billion and focused significant investments in key education priority areas such as literacy and teacher quality. That's great. However, Latino families also care about Title I, Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) funding, targeted investments in bilingual and migrant education and after- school programs.

Title I funding, which provides essential services to all disadvantaged children, benefits from a modest increase in FY 2002. However, the creation of Local Family Information Centers, which would help parents understand the school system, including how standards and assessments can be used to help improve student achievement, was shot down in the budget process despite empirical research on cultural capital.

Moreover, Bush and his erroneously believed to be "pro-Latino" administration proposed to cut the most important higher education preparation program for Latino students, GEAR-UP, whose funds support early college preparation and awareness to ensure that low-income elementary and secondary school students are prepared for college. It will suffer a $68 million cut - approximately 25 percent of its 2001 operating budget.

With regard to higher education, the 2002 budget shortchanges HSIs that are key in serving Latino students. HSIs will receive a modest increase of $4 million in their FY 2001 budget. However, Latino Democrats estimate HSIs need about $100 million this year just to approximate parity compared to black colleges.

How about those targeted investments that Latinos care about? Bilingual and migrant education and after-school programs will receive no increase in FY 2002. The current system provides competitive grants to states and school districts to meet the language and academic learning needs of Limited-English Proficient students.

What implications does this have on improved instructional support, support services, professional development and research? What about the demand that school districts across this country face educating those recently arrived immigrants? I know, those states will just have to absorb the costs.

If you believe some of the other hype, then you accept the premise that Bush is a friend of immigrants. After all, Bush has asked Congress to extend the April 30 deadline for about 200,000 undocumented immigrants who may be eligible to apply for legal residency in the United States.

Bush also showed some compassionate conservatism (I still don't get it) earlier this year when he allowed undocumented Central Americans to avoid deportation in the wake of devastating earthquakes in their homelands.

Bush really hasn't grabbed our attention when it comes to immigration policy nor has he offered anything concrete that would suggest he really cares about immigrants. I am not talking about whether he wants to help them work legally in this country, because if there is anything we should know for sure at this time is this: If it helps big business (multinationals), then he is for it. Hence, the administration supports the creation of a temporary guest worker program to boost the number of visas available to foreign laborers. Don't you think any such plan should come with adequate worker protections? I hope so.

The only thing we truly know about any policy implications from the Bush administration when it comes to immigration is that it will not support a general amnesty for undocumented immigrants, all 11 million of them. I don't get it. Why not give them amnesty on Cinco de Mayo or some other significant Latin American date in 2004 with the demand that they vote Republican? Don't laugh. The first part of the sentence can happen; the latter, well, I concede that's stretching it.

Latinos care about U.S. relations with the rest of the global community. Not surprisingly, we care most about the places from which we trace our roots. Given that about 40 percent of the U.S. Latino population is foreign-born, ties to Latin America are still deep and varied, and are likely to get stronger through trade agreements.

With regard to foreign policy, Bush's first move was to visit his compadre (new friend), Vicente Fox, in Mexico. As it turned out, the visit was brief and mostly symbolic. There were no major initiative announcements.

Mexicans in Mexico and in this country were hopeful that a dialogue between the two countries would lead to major initiatives addressing our failed border policies. Go figure.

On Cuba, Bush has indicated he will not change a thing with regard to U.S.-Cuba relations. I thought the Elian Gonzalez fiasco suggested that we had to revamp our policy towards Cuba.

With regard to Puerto Rico , Bush has refused to get between the U.S. Navy and grave concerns expressed by Puerto Ricans over the bombing in Vieques . If I understand this correctly, bombing Vieques and causing all those documented deadly side affects is vital to U.S. interests. Sounds like a pro-Latino position, doesn't it?

The Latino community needs to see beyond the feel-good mariachis on the South Lawn and the loaded rhetoric that spews from this administration. There is no doubt that the Latino community is a force that must be dealt with politically, economically and socially.

The major caveat is that the Latino community needs some work when it comes to strengthening its political, economic and social muscles. What a tragedy if we all are bystanders with our eyes wide shut.

Jos Luis Santos is a Ph.D. candidate at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona.

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