Updated on 12:00
By Robert Shaw
Bogota, Nov. 6, 2012 [AlterPresse] --- As voting in the 2012 US election kicks off today (Nov. 6, 2012), US opinion polls have the Democrat and Republican candidates neck and neck at 48% a piece. AlterPresse talks to the Haitian diaspora about the main issues at stake.
“On key issues like immigration, health and the economy, Haitian voters in the US are simply scared of what the Republican candidate stands for,” says Jocelyn McCalla, a Haitian policy analyst based in the US. “A win for Romney’s team would spell a return of “white” to the White House,” he adds.
Governor Romney remains favored among whites, seniors and evangelicals, while women, non-whites and young adults back President Obama.
With between 1 to 1,5 million Haitian-American´s living in the US, McCalla estimates that close to 60% are registered to vote and that approximately 40-55% will actually take the trip to the ballot box today.
Immigration: Boosting economies Versus “Self-deportation”
For the majority of these voters, immigration policy ranks high among the top-drawer issues. While Governor Romney criticizes President Obama’s "stopgap" measure on young illegal immigrants, he doesn’t say whether he would overturn it. More specifically, he says the US should encourage migrants to "self-deport" by making life hard for them.
McCalla underscores the fact that immigrants should instead be valued for their role in both boosting the US economy and at the same time supporting their families in Haiti.
“Illegal Haitians in the US, like the wider Latino groups, must be allowed to come our from under the shadows and lawfully brought into the job market,” says McCalla. “If Haitians lose the increased disposable income and social mobility they have seen under Obama, then they will be squeezed by both the IRS in the US and the increasing needs of their families back home.”
Daniel Supplice, Haitian Minister for the Diaspora, told AlterPresse that “Two billion USD per year, or close to 25% of Haiti’s GDP comes largely from remittances sent home by the Haitian diaspora in the US”. “We hope that this important economic source of income will continue over the next four years”.
As a sign of the current administration’s support for Haitians living in the US, earlier last month, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haiti for an additional 18 months. Secretary Napolitano also extended the suspension of certain requirements for F-1 nonimmigrant Haitian students.
“These moves essentially double down on Obama’s immigration enforcement priority — to prosecute and deport immigrants who have committed serious crimes,” Manolia Charlotin, editor-in-chief of the New York-based newspaper, The Haitian Times, told AlterPresse.
Immediately following the 2010 earthquake, both Indiana Senator Richard Lugar (R) and Senator Bill Nelson (D) of Florida backed these policies across the aisle. “This is the right thing to do. Haitian immigrants already in the US will not only be able to make money to support themselves, but also to send remittances to their suffering families back in Haiti,” said Senator Nelson.
Now if Governor Romney is elected, his revamped hardline position on immigration seems set to threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of immigrants, including Haitians, across the US. But it’s not the only issue set to change if the Republican candidate comes to power.
Economy: Romney’s “full of shit” stereotypes
On the economy, Romney’s plan centers on tax cuts with notable opposition to President Obama’s auto industry bailout along with undefined proposals to reduce federal spending.
The bailout of Chrysler and General Motors in 2009 by the Obama administration was widely viewed as a positive step to help stabilize the auto industry in the US and Romney’s opposition to the bailout - and the infamous line, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" could end up being a defining factor in today’s election results.
McCalla notes that Romney is dangerously pushing the “stereotypical misconception that all immigrants [including Haitians] take jobs from Americans and that many other jobs are being lost to foreign countries like China”.
Almost two weeks ago, Romney’s claim that Chrysler is shifting all Jeep production from the US to China sparked a war of words on Twitter between US tycoon, Donald Trump, and Chrysler Group’s Vice President for product design, Ralph Gilles, whose parents immigrated to New York from Haiti, with Gilles telling Trump [and Romney] “You are full of shit”.
Healthcare: More of the same please!
At the heart of this twitter battle lies an unyielding sense that Haitians from older and newer generations are unlikely to move away from their long-time allegiance to the Democratic Party.
“The urban centers remain true blue states,” says Charlotin. “From Miami to New York City and all the way across Boston and Chicago, 99% of the 30 elected or appointed Haitian officials are democrats, who represent middle-class Haitian´s concerns around immigration, education, economic mobility and healthcare”.
For Haitians healthcare and the economy are very much interlinked as before Obama came to power they struggled to access basic health services, lost in the midst of the world’s most expensive system at a staggering $2.8 trillion USD.
In 2010, President Obama’s pushed through the Affordable Care Act, against Republican opposition, offering a legally-backed universal healthcare package that has benefited thousands of Haitians, by pushing businesses to provide healthcare benefits and prohibiting denial of coverage and claims based on pre-existing conditions.
And Romney’s answer would be to make consumers pay more of their own medical bills.
“Many of the Haitians living in the US cannot afford healthcare and the nuts and bolts of ‘Obamacare’ has been a tremendous advance for them,” explains McCalla. “Obesity, for example, is a major disease that affect our community and under Obama it has finally started to be covered and treated properly”.
As Haitians across the US cast their votes today, on the major issues of health, economy and immigration, they seem set to give President Obama the nod forward for another four years at the helm. [rs gp apr 06/11/2012 01:00]