Immigration and the Governor's Race

In the race for New York Governor, we've heard Republican Carl Paladino calling his Democratic rival Andrew Cuomo part of Albany's dysfunction, and Cuomo framing Paladino as a one-dimensional candidate running on anger alone. But behind the bickering looms an issue that has the potential to define this year's race -- immigration.

Cuomo spoke about the issue at the state Democratic convention in May. “We are New York. We are the laboratory for the American experiment of democracy. The Statue of Liberty stands in our harbor," he said. "We are the welcome mat for the nation. We are founded on the premise that we can say to the people all across this globe: Come here, we invite you.”

And Paladino spoke about immigration to El Diario reporter Catalina Jaramillo after a breakfast meeting with Hispanic ministers in August. "We’re not going to allow undocumented aliens, okay, or illegal immigrants to take part in our social welfare and our Medicaid systems in the State of New York," he said. "Our taxpayers didn’t buy into that."

Jaramillo, who comes to us from Feet in 2 Worlds -- a project that brings the work of immigrant journalists to public radio -- sat down with WNYC political reporter Bob Hennelly to talk about the potentially combustible mix of immigration and politics.

Do you think from your reporting that Paladino's approach to the undocumented will cost him votes in the broader immigrant community?

Yes, even though undocumented immigrants obviously don't vote. But the Hispanic population that votes, they have made it very clear in our polls that the first issue they care about is immigration reform. So, Paladino talking about not having immigration reform, it's going to effect him, in a large way.

What about Cuomo? Have you heard anything proactive in terms of his position on how he would approach the challenge of dealing with the undocumented?

Not in his campaign. As an attorney general, he has been very active protecting immigrant communities. He's always been talking in favor of immigration reform, but in the campaign, I've tried to contact his campaign, and get his take on these issues, and I haven't gotten any response.

What role can the governor play when it comes to something like immigration? Because it is a federal matter.   

The governor has a lot of things that he could do for immigrants. And one of the issues that is really big now is the secure communities program, where if the police arrest you, they take your fingerprints and those fingerprints are shared with homeland security. Secure communities have been approved in a lot of states. Here it hasn't been implemented yet, but they're talking about it. And the governor has the power of putting a veto on it. He can stop that from happening.

I went to Flushing, to a local Chinese-American business council. I'm wondering, in some place like Queens, which is all about the immigrants really redefining the politics there, does it make it almost impossible for Republicans to build their party, when on top of their ticket they have someone like Carl Paladino who seems to be very much against the undocumented?

I think it's very difficult for Republicans to build something in Queens. Hispanics are pretty conservative, a lot of them, so they agree with Republicans on some issues like gay marriage, or abortion. And if Republicans had the idea of supporting immigration reform, they would have a lot of votes.

So, on the social issues that are core to many of the principles of community leadership in the Latino community, the Republicans have potential, and yet, the degree to which they look like they're anti-undocumented immigrants, they lose that potential.

Yes. This was exactly what happened in the Paladino meeting with the ministers. Also the Democrats are not very happy. I mean, Obama promised an immigration reform in the first year and nothing has happened.  

Now we've talked about the rise of the Tea Party and the Conservatives. Is there kind of a dissipation of that energy in the immigrat community? Do you think there's a disillusionment that could hurt Cuomo?

Yes, totally. The polls and the studies are saying that if nothing happened with immigration reform, which it looks like nothing is going to happen until November, 30 percent of the voters are going to stay at home.

That could be fatal for a Democrat.  

They have to be more active on the issue.