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The face of Univision talks about immigration

By Pamela Sellers, CNN
Jorge Ramos says his position on immigration does not threaten his role as a journalist.
Jorge Ramos says his position on immigration does not threaten his role as a journalist.
  • Jorge Ramos is the main news anchor for Spanish language station, Univision
  • He came to the United States from Mexico in his 20s
  • He is critical of Obama for not getting an immigration bill in his first year in office

Phoenix, Arizona (CNN) -- Jorge Ramos has been the face of Univision's News broadcast for 24 years. The program's estimated audience of more than 2 million viewers exceeds most English language news broadcasts. Ramos is also a best-selling author of 10 books. His latest is "A Country for All: An Immigrant Manifesto."

CNN spoke to him in Phoenix where he was covering Arizona's controversial immigration law, SB1070:

CNN: You came to the United States as an immigrant yourself. What is your story?

Jorge Ramos: Well I was working as a journalist in Mexico, and one day when I was very young out of college they censored one of the stories that I was doing on the president of the country. And back then I was very idealistic -- and I still am -- and I decided to quit. I quit my job in Mexico. I sold my car for $2,000, got a student visa and came to the United States. And it was supposed to be for only one year, that was January 2, 1983, and that year has become 27 years. So this country gave me the opportunities that my country of origin, Mexico, couldn't give me.

CNN: How were you able to stay in this country on a student visa?

JR: The student visa became a work permit. With the work permit I started working as a reporter in Los Angeles and then after being a few years in Los Angeles I became at 28 the anchorman for Univision news.

CNN: You have written 10 books in your time here, often focusing on Latinos. But why immigration? Why now?

JR: It's a book on the urgent need to have immigration reform. As we can see what happened in Arizona [the overturning of parts of SB 1070] it's a step in the right direction for Latinos and immigrants, but it's simply not enough. Things are exactly the same as two weeks ago or two months ago or two years ago or even 20 years ago because we still have 11 million people in the U.S. without any rights whatsoever. It's really incredible that the most powerful country in the world is treating 11 million people as second-class citizens or second-class human beings.

CNN: You're getting a lot of criticism with this book not for criticizing the conservatives who are targeting immigrants, rather for accusing President Obama of breaking a campaign promise. Please explain this.

JR: Yea, when Barack Obama was running for president he told Univision in an interview that he was going to have an immigration bill during his first year in office. It was an important promise because back then Barack Obama was trying to the get the Democratic nomination against Hilary Clinton. Hillary Clinton had promised that she was going to do it during the first 100 days. Anyway, Latinos believed Barack Obama; 67 percent of Latinos voted for Barack Obama and at the end President Barack Obama didn't keep his promise. He broke a promise.

So, Obama broke his promise, Democrats don't have the political will to push for immigration reform right now and Republicans are missing in action during immigration. Nobody is really doing anything for immigrants right now.

CNN: As an anchor for one of the largest Spanish-speaking news networks in the world, have you been able to get the Democratic leadership or the president to tell you what is behind the delay?

JR: I think it's politics, simply politics. Democrats are very scared of losing the elections in November. The Democrats are afraid of losing control of the House of Representatives, if not the Senate. So they are not willing to push their luck right now on immigration and since immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, can't vote there is really nothing to gain.

But it was a campaign promise. Democrats were, most of them, for immigration reform and right now when they see the political wings are going the other way they are doing nothing. Because of the lack of action and leadership in Washington, that's why things like this are happening in Arizona. Other states realize that nothing is happening in Washington and they're taking immigration into their own hands. It's wrong, but that's what they're doing.

CNN: Let's talk about the Republican Party at the national level. There's a movement within Christian Republicans, many of whom are Latino, who are trying to promote a "Not Arizona but not Amnesty" position. Is the Republican Party listening to them?

JR: I don't think honestly that the Republican Party is listening to them. The Republican Party has to make peace with Latinos, otherwise they're going to keep on losing election after election after election. Latinos will become the majority in this country in less than 100 years. We won't be here to see it, but without the Hispanic vote, no one can make it to the White House. If Republicans don't make peace with Latinos, Texas is going to become a blue state and Republicans are going to keep on losing elections. They don't get the fact that immigration is the most important symbolic issue for Latinos. Other issues are more important jobs, education, health care, but immigration is the most important issue. If Republicans don't get it, they are going to keep on losing the Hispanic vote.

CNN: Millions of Spanish-speaking people living in America watch Univision. During the SB1070 story when you were in Phoenix at the State Capitol, you were surrounded by hundreds of people watching your live shots. What do your viewers want in the way of immigration reform?

JR: It's very simple. They want to be legal in this country. They know that they are not criminals. They know that they are not terrorists, yet they're being blamed for the crime in this country. Those who are criticizing them, they're completely wrong. Crime is down in all the United States. Most immigrants are not terrorists or criminals. They pay taxes. They create jobs. They don't abuse the system and they are very frustrated because no one is paying attention to them. So what they see in Univision -- the Spanish language media -- is the kind of leadership that they don't see in politicians.

I mean look, Latinos are 15 percent of the population and we only have one U.S. senator, so there is a lack of leadership in the Hispanic community. The only way for them to communicate is through Spanish language media. That's why you see hundreds of people whenever we go, you know?

CNN: As a journalist you know that we must remain objective. Seeing all these admirers, I cannot help but wonder how you can remain objective on this story.

Nobody is really doing anything for immigrants right now.
--Jorge Ramos, Univision anchor

JR: I think it is a fair question and I think its something that I that I have to answer very honestly. As a journalist, I am not allowed and I will never give my opinion on the air when I'm doing the newscast. I have to give both points of view and that's exactly what I do all the time. But as an immigrant with a voice, because I have the privilege of having a voice, there are times when I have the need to talk for those who don't have a voice. As long as you're very clear on your roles, as long as you tell people exactly what you're doing, I think I am being fair and honest.

CNN: Will your next book be based on this immigration coverage?

JR: I don't know, I don't know. But right now I know that immigration reform has to be won in English. I mean the book in Spanish has sold very well, but it really doesn't matter because I'm speaking to the converted. Immigration reform has to be won in English and that's the only way. Even with an accent, you know?

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