The first order of business when President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20 will be to address the Covid-19 crisis and the restoration of jobs for Americans. While the Covid-19 crisis tops all other domestic issues, the new administration plans to work with the Congress to introduce laws and policies concerning jobs, infrastructure, the environment, immigration, affordable health care, and student loans, among others. Expectations are high.
According to a Univision Latino National Poll conducted shortly before the November election, Latinos listed the following most important issues facing them:  Responding to coronavirus;  Lowering the cost of health care;  Improving wages;  Unemployment, income disparities and creating more jobs.  Protecting immigrant rights;  Stopping discrimination against immigrants and Latinos.
It is fitting that the response to the coronavirus pandemic will be Biden’s top priority issue upon taking office. According to a PEW survey, Hispanics considered the pandemic crisis as “among the most serious issue facing the nation, with 70% saying it is a very big problem, somewhat comparable with the 60% who said unemployment, according to the June survey.” Both issues are closely linked.
Even with the arrival of an approved vaccine, the vast majority of Americans will not be vaccinated until the spring of 2021. Medical experts note that Latinos and Blacks have been especially hard hit by the pandemic. Sociologist Rogelio Saenz reviewed various medical studies and observed that “Black Americans and Latinos are dying at rates 3.2 times higher than white Americans” because of Covid-19.
In El Paso, one of America’s worst hit areas of the Covid-19 crisis, the most pressing issue since the election has been finding ICU rooms for the critically ill. Covid patients needing medical ventilators were flown to other large Texas cities. A San Antonio medical team from Brooks Army Base was dispatched to assist the overwhelmed El Paso team of physicians and nurses. El Paso doctors and nurses are encouraged that a coronavirus vaccine will arrive this month and health care providers will be among the first to receive the vaccine.
Among the policies most discussed among Latino leaders is that of immigration. During his presidential campaign Biden “vowed to stop the practice of separating immigrant families trying to enter the U.S. from Mexico.” [NPR] Latinos are especially hopeful that the new president will press for comprehensive immgration reform.
Dreamers, immigrants brought to America by their parents at a young age, worked hard to get Biden elected and many expect the new president to quickly push for a new version of the Dream Act and, hopefully, a route to citizenship.
Biden’s chances for passage of a comprehensive immigration bill rest on a victory for Democrats in Georgia’s two senatorial special election on January 5th. Nonetheless, Biden has executive powers that could reverse President Trump’s previous harsh immigration policies. Many Latinos along the U.S.-Mexican Texas border area faced the loss of property with the construction of a border wall. They are encouraged that Biden has promised to cease additional funding for Trump’s border wall.
Latinos will also closely follow Biden’s big-picture agenda which calls for new job creation legislation. A PEW study found that “Hispanic women have experienced an especially steep rise in their unemployment rate, which jumped from 5.5% to 20.5% between February and April 2020. By comparison, the unemployment rate for Hispanic men rose from 4.3% to 16.9% during this time.” With schools closed in many areas, women faced additional challenges of finding adequate child care if they could not work from home.
In an editorial December 13, the New York Times commented that “The gross inequities of the nation’s digital divide have become more glaring as the pandemic has pushed school, work, medical appointments and other everyday activities online.” Biden’s job creation plans call for passing an “infrastructure bill that includes expanding broadband internet to rural areas. [New York Times:] That would make access to on-line schooling and medical services more equitable.
Biden has also expressed the need for funding universal pre kindergarten and increasing Social Security benefits. Of great interest to Latinos is Biden’s support of raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour from $7.25 and easing the path for workers to form a labor union. This would help many Latinos who have been identified as “essential workers” but receive minimum wages.
Latinos would also like to see the extension of the Voting Rights Bill. While this bill passed the U.S. House last year, it died in the Republican controlled Senate. NPR notes that “Biden advocated for extending the original 1965 legislation following the death of civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.” Given the many efforts to restrict access to voting during the 2020 election, protection of our democratic processes and participation of all eligible voters is essential.
Over the past year billions of dollars of pandemic assistance was provided to farmers across the red states of America. As Biden looks to help the most needy, he should look at communities where hunger is an everyday battle for thousands of Latinos in Texas and throughout the United States.