In the United States, our experience with economic refugees is typically from news reports, and the most memorable example in recent years would be the large number of children crossing the southern border in 2014 and 2015. In Europe, it’s the many people attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Northern Africa, generally in overcrowded, barely seaworthy boats.
An economic refugee is a person who leaves his or her homeland to seek better job prospects, usually in a wealthier country. Economic refugees are not fleeing wars or gang violence, but rather poverty and often the corruption which keeps so much of the population in poverty. Many of the children who entered the U.S. illegally in 2014 and 2015, were fleeing gang violence. The rest were economic refugees. Of course, there are many other people from all around the world who manage to illegally enter a more prosperous country, or overstay their visas, in order to have a better economic future for themselves and their children. They are also economic refugees.
But these people can’t legally vote in the U.S., so some of you may be wondering if this post is about voter fraud. It is not.
The economic refugees to which I refer are Puerto Ricans; they are fleeing economic strife on the island. Puerto Rico is embroiled in a bankruptcy crisis and Congress agreed to help restructure the island’s $70 billion in debt, but under strict rules overseen by a federally appointed control board. The board must approve all fiscal plans and economic policies, and has the power to overturn any noncompliant Puerto Rican laws. The control board can only be terminated after Puerto Rico produces balanced or surplus budgets for four consecutive years. As a result, services on the island have been cut, and life has gotten more difficult for its inhabitants, so a large number of Puerto Ricans are moving to the mainland.
Many are settling in swing-state Florida – largely in Central Florida – and both republicans and democrats are working hard to get them registered to vote prior to next week’s registration deadline. It is a smart idea for each party to introduce the new mainland residents to the voting process in Florida because in just a few years, Puerto Ricans and their descendants are expected to outnumber Cuban-Americans in the state. While Puerto Rico can help choose the presidential candidates via primaries, the island’s residents have no say in the general election for president. That changes once they move to the mainland.
So who will the Puerto Ricans support for president? A poll which was conducted by Latino Decisions for the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund and released Wednesday, October 5, provides a good hint. With a margin of error of +/- 4.4%, the poll shows:
- Voters with Puerto Rican heritage: 74% for Clinton and 17% for Trump.
- Clinton’s support is a bit higher with island-born voters than with mainland-born voters.
- 84% will definitely vote; 14% will likely vote; 2% will definitely not vote.
The poll results do not look good for Mr. Trump. Voters with Puerto Rican heritage make up 27% of Florida’s Hispanic voters, while Cuban-Americans make up about 31%. Cuban-Americans have historically voted republican, but that may also change this year – at least for the presidential election.
Mr. Trump’s derogatory language about people of Hispanic origin (he did say “Mexico” during his campaign announcement, but it seems to have taken on a wider interpretation), and the report that his company may have violated the Cuban trade embargo in 1998 are working against him. That violation was 10 years before Fidel Castro turned over power to his brother, and well before any thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations.
For these reasons, fivethirtyeight.com estimates that Florida is now leaning in Ms. Clinton’s direction (65.9% chance of going to Clinton). Because they believe Florida is the most important state in tipping the election toward either candidate, those behind the website now feel Ms. Clinton’s chance of winning the presidency have increased to 78.8%. That is 24% higher than just ten days ago.
The first presidential debate has a lot to do with that change, but so do Mr. Trump’s income tax issues and the economic refugees from Puerto Rico.
During both the first presidential debate and the vice presidential debate, Trump/Pence talked about ending the refugee resettlement program because of the chance a terrorist may slip through. Prior to the debates, Donald Trump, Jr. compared Syrian refugees to poisoned skittles. (By the way, he used a copyrighted image without permission, and the British photographer had once been a refugee.) The Trump campaign spends a lot of effort trying to make the American people afraid of refugees.
They may have been right to be afraid of refugees, but rather than refugees from primarily Islamic countries, it is the ones from Puerto Rico that are a threat to Trump. Those U.S. citizens, who would not be able to vote for president had they stayed on the island, will likely swing Florida and the U.S. to elect Clinton/Kaine.