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The Latino State of the Union: Biden has done a lot for us, but fails on immigration

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 2/8/2023 Raul Reyes

When President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address on Tuesday, among the audience will be millions of Latinos, who account for nearly 1 in 5 Americans. The president will likely highlight moves by his administration that have benefitted Latinos. But how is the administration really faring with this key constituency?

Here is a snapshot of the Biden administration’s track record with Latinos: the Latino State of the Union.   

Jobs are a top concern for Latinos

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Latinos consistently rate jobs and the economy as a top concern, and broad economic indicators show that Latinos are doing well under the Biden administration. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the Latino unemployment rate is 4.5%. While this is slightly higher than the overall unemployment rate, it is less than half of the Latino unemployment rate in the final month of the Trump administration.

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Meanwhile, Latinos are starting small businesses at the fastest rate in over a decade, Latino homeownership is expanding at a record pace, and the poverty rate for Latino children has fallen the most out of all racial and ethnic groups. These trends reflect sound policies by the administration.   

On health care, the administration deserves credit for promoting healthy outcomes for Latinos. In October, the Department of Health and Human Services released a report showing major gains in “Obamacare” enrollment (up 53% since 2020) among Latinos.

The Biden administration has increased outreach efforts for the Affordable Care Act marketplace, helping bring the country’s uninsured rate to a record low.

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The Inflation Reduction Act’s cap on insulin prices will benefit Latino seniors, as diabetes affects Latinos more than other people.

These accomplishments stand in contrast to the prior administration, which repeatedly tried to end the ACA without offering a viable alternative.  

Biden's record on immigration is inconsistent

But on immigration, the president’s record has been inconsistent. On the positive side, Biden’s administration has reunited hundreds of migrant families separated under President Donald Trump and put forth a new rule intended to help the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program withstand legal challenges.

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The administration has expanded temporary protected status to include countries like Haiti and Venezuela. This program allows migrants already here to remain for a limited time because of dangerous conditions in their home countries. Biden plans to increase the number of refugees the United States accepts from the Western Hemisphere as well.   

While these moves are commendable, they have been overshadowed by the crisis at the southern border, where the administration has struggled with an ongoing influx of migrants.

In January, Biden announced new policies that will open legal pathways for entry for some migrants, while closing off the asylum process to many more. This plan involves an expansion of Title 42, a controversial health rule used as a border control mechanism, a policy Biden has stated that he is against.

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Progressive Democrats and immigrant advocates rightfully view these moves as disappointing. If the president were committed to humane immigration solutions, he would not be placing restrictions on the legal right to asylum.  

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Gun violence continues to affect Latino communities, most notably in the school massacre in Uvalde, Texas. In response, the president signed a bipartisan bill in June that will help prevent dangerous people from accessing firearms and will increase the federal government’s investment in mental health resources.

In addition, the administration has taken at least 21 executive actions to help reduce gun violence, which most Latinos welcome. Consider that solid majorities of Latinos support stricter gun laws and requiring background checks for all gun buyers.   

Biden should focus on keeping promises, not placating GOP

True, Biden has a low approval rating among Latinos. In January, a Quinnipiac poll found that only 31% of Latinos said that they approved of his performance as president. To win more Latino support, Biden must draw more contrast between his administration and the extreme right.

The president should embrace progressive positions on voting rights and reproductive freedom, which are in sync with the Latino mainstream. He should advocate for reforming the Supreme Court, as its conservative majority could block life-changing student debt relief for Latino students.

Most important, the administration needs to stop trying to placate Republicans on immigration. Instead, Biden could be staking out his own path on this issue, starting with an update of our asylum process to meet the needs of the 21st century.  

a man wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Raul Reyes © Handout Raul Reyes

Overall, Biden’s agenda has improved the economic health and well-being of the Latino community. But the president has unfulfilled promises to Latinos, especially on immigration – and it’s time that he delivers on them. 

Raul Reyes is an attorney, journalist and television commentator in New York City. He is a member of the Board of Contributors for USA TODAY as well as a contributor to the TODAY Show, NBC Nightly News, CNN, MSNBC, Inside Edition, HuffPost Live, BBC, NPR, Sirius XM and Fox News Radio.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: The Latino State of the Union: Biden has done a lot for us, but fails on immigration



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