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Entries tagged "Dream Act"

Latinos' One-Sided Love Affair with Obama

November 15, 2012 ·

Clearly, we Latinos love President Barack Obama. He garnered nearly three-fourths of our vote. In battleground states like Nevada, Florida, and Colorado , we helped catapult the incumbent president to victory.

An Obama supporter displays an "Obamanos" sign at a campaign rally in Wisconsin. Photo by Mundo Hispanico.Unlike African Americans, Latinos didn't always back Democrats by this kind of margin. In 2004, George W. Bush garnered 40 percent of the Latino vote. Had Mitt Romney pulled that off this year, he might have won the White House.

Although Obama overwhelmingly won our support, we're still unhappy with his immigration track record. He's made no progress toward achieving a long-overdue and comprehensive immigration reform. Even more disheartening, more people are being deported under his leadership than during Bush's presidency. To put this in its tragic context, thousands of our families have been torn apart. Too many kids are growing up without their parents.

Obama lucked out because the Republican Party is taking such an extreme stance on immigration that many Latino voters that might have otherwise voted GOP rejected it at the ballot box.

Romney advocated for "self-deportation" and failed to distance himself from Arizona's Republican-led state government, which passed an extremist "papers please" law that implicitly advocated racial discrimination. Most Republicans oppose the DREAM Act, a bill that would give millions of young undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. Republicans regularly refer to undocumented immigrants as "illegal aliens," insinuating that they're not only different but somehow sub-human.

We aren't single-issue voters or a homogenous voting bloc. But we do take the issue of immigration personally. Nearly all Latino voters have ties of some sort to undocumented immigrants. We may have been undocumented at one point or have family and friends who are currently undocumented or used to be. Both my parents came to this country without legal documentation.

Ironically, they became citizens because of the 1986 amnesty law President Ronald Reagan signed. Some of my best friends are undocumented. Most of them came to this country when they were kids. This is the only country they've ever known. This is their home — they're as American as me. The DREAM Act would provide my friends and others like them with the opportunity to realize their true potential as American citizens.

When Republicans label all undocumented immigrants as "criminals," "aliens," and "illegals," we in the Latino community can't help but feel that the GOP is badmouthing our grandparents, our mothers and fathers, our neighbors, and our friends. Why would any group support a political party that explicitly disrespects its loved ones?

On Election Day, we came out in record numbers in support of Obama. In tight Senate races in states like New Mexico and Virginia, the Latino vote gave those Democratic candidates a winning edge Without Latino support, the Democratic Party would have lost its Senate majority in 2010 and failed to win it back this year.

The onus is now on the White House to prove that he deserved our votes.

In his most recent press conference, Obama said he supports "a pathway for legal status" instead of citizenship. This is discouraging news. We voted for him because we want our loved ones to become citizens. We won't settle for less. Obama must push for bills like the DREAM Act, and fight for comprehensive immigration reform, but more importantly he must ensure that these are legitimate pathways to citizenship.

We may love President Obama, but now it's time for the entire Democratic Party to prove it loves us back. How long can this one-sided love affair last?

 

Javier Rojo is the New Mexico Fellow at Institute for Policy Studies. IPS-dc.org

Obama Announces Deportation Policy Reform

August 18, 2011 ·

The announcement today that the Obama administration will review the deportation cases of more than 300,000 undocumented immigrants is one positive step among many missteps in an administration that has failed to provide a coherent strategy on immigration.

On the White House blog, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Cecilia Muñoz talks about the steps that will be taken by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to create that review committee which will review those deportation cases:

DHS, along with the Department of Justice, will be reviewing the current deportation caseload to clear out low-priority cases on a case-by-case basis and make more room to deport people who have been convicted of crimes or pose a security risk. And they will take steps to keep low-priority cases out of the deportation pipeline in the first place. 

It remains to be seen if this latest announcement is the beginning of a pivotal moment where Obama begins shifting to a more liberal immigration policy, or if months from now we see it as the only moderately positive step among many negative ones.

Throughout his time in office, Obama has let immigration policies evolve on their own, providing little input other than periodic speeches in Latino-heavy areas. By making no comment on congressional increases in enforcement-related spending, while opting to ratchet up enforcement policies that raise the number of deportations, Obama created the need for political actions like today’s.

300,000 cases is a small fraction of the entire undocumented population, and much more reform will be needed at the congressional level to move the country forward. The question is whether Obama and his administration can recognize that their actions on beefing up the "deportation pipeline" that Muñoz talks about, i.e. their support for mandatory Secure Communities, are likely to do more damage than any cosmetic reforms to the prosecutorial process can undo.

White House Cornered by Its Own Immigration Enforcement Record

July 29, 2011 ·

In the middle of a debt-ceiling debate that's highlighting so much of what's wrong with U.S. institutions of governance, President Barack Obama is clumsily defending his immigration enforcement actions and calling the system flawed at the same time. Somebody in the White House needs to realize that his call to ensure that such enforcement is humane is irrelevant. Obama's Republican opposition — lawmakers and presidential hopefuls — won't give one inch in their pursuit for an enforcement-only immigration strategy.

During Obama's latest address on immigration he repeated the same talking points about the history of the United States as a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws. In doing so, he seems eagerly trying to position himself at the political center of a non-existent debate. This is part of what he told the National Council of La Raza last Monday:

I promise you, we are responding to your concerns and working every day to make sure we are enforcing flawed laws in the most humane and best possible way.

Obama followed that by saying he couldn't change the law on his own, but a group of undocumented young people in the crowd responded with a loud "Yes you can!" that echoed the 2008 campaign slogan. Advocates have urged Obama to change his interpretation of current law and issue an executive order that would stop the deportation of young people and parents of U.S. citizens.

Felipe Matos of Presente.org talks to reporters after leading Dreamers in chanting during Obama's speech.

Obama's passive acceptance of solutions prescribed by the Department of Homeland Security — particularly Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement John Morton — has led to an increase in deportations. The deportation rate is rising in part thanks to programs like Secure Communities, which enables law enforcement authorities to share a fingerprint database with immigration authorities, and Operation Streamline, which makes it easier to convict and deport people apprehended at the border.

Obama's critics have taken a direct and succinct tone. From Frank Sharry at America's Voice:

You are the president; you can steer your administration's policies and practices so that they line up with your values and priorities, yet your administration is deporting more immigrants than ever. With Republican hardliners controlling the House, chances for a much-needed legislative breakthrough are slim, but you have plenty of authority, Mr. President. You have the authority to protect young people eligible for the DREAM Act, you have the authority to overhaul rather than expand deeply flawed enforcement programs such as Secure Communities and 287(g), and you have the authority to make it easier for families to stay together rather than get ripped apart. In other words, Mr. President, "Yes you can!"

The immigrant rights movement, and the hundreds of individuals and organizations seeking to increase the political power of Latinos and other U.S. ethnic groups have had to balance the short- and long- term prospects of criticizing Obama. In this case, advocating against Obama is a double-edged sword. Call off the pressure, and become irrelevant during the 2012 debate. Endanger his re-election, and we'll wind up with someone worse on immigration in the White House.

I believe Obama is tone-deaf to a moral message. He's offering a political one in return. In doing so, he's out of touch with the impact his own policies have. 

A Coming out Party for Jose Antonio Vargas

June 22, 2011 ·

Today the journalism world is shocked by the announcement that Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer-winning writer who has worked for The Washington Post and Huffington Post and published pieces in Rolling Stone and The New Yorker, is an undocumented immigrant.

Vargas, whose mother sent him on a plane from the Philippines at age 12, announced he lacks legal status on the Define American website that was launched today. Like many others in his situation, he had no idea he was undocumented until attempting to partake in the coming-of-age ritual of driving a car:

One day when I was 16, I rode my bike to the nearby D.M.V. office to get my driver’s permit. Some of my friends already had their licenses, so I figured it was time. But when I handed the clerk my green card as proof of U.S. residency, she flipped it around, examining it. ‘‘This is fake,’’ she whispered. ‘‘Don’t come back here again.’’

Vargas narrates his struggles to deal with the situation, and his decision at age 22, to fight for his dream of becoming a journalist by fraudulently obtaining a driver’s license in another state so that he could fill out the paperwork necessary to get an internship at The Washington Post. For the next eight years, Vargas would rise in the journalism industry, while at the same time becoming more deeply entrenched into his secret status. From his perspective, acknowledging his sexual orientation was easier than sharing his undocumented status:

Tough as it was, coming out about being gay seemed less daunting than coming out about my legal status. I kept my other secret mostly hidden.

Vargas credits his newfound courage to the activism of people like the members of the Trail of Dreams, a group of four students who walked from Miami to Washington, DC last year to bring awareness to their plight as U.S.-raised undocumented students. Later on the year, a group of Chicago students from the Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL) led the initiative for a “National Coming Out of the Shadows” day. They led a march to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices in downtown Chicago.

Jose Antonio Vargas has acknowledged he is undocumented. Creative Commons photo by Campus Progress.

These two actions were honored last weekend at the Netroots Nation conference with the Freedom From Fear Award, along with others who have demonstrated courage in fighting for a better world. The importance of their activism, similarly to Vargas’ coming out today, is that it highlights the intersection of identities of LGBT and undocumented youth. Both the Miami and Chicago actions featured LGBT youth prominently, making an impact on an immigrant community that still keeps LGBT advocacy in the periphery.

Like all these advocates, I was brought here at an early age — as a 13-year-old Argentine boy, to be precise. Like Vargas, I benefitted from access to higher education in California and to a driver’s license in the Pacific Northwest. But I also benefitted from a support network for undocumented youth that started at UCLA in 2003. Because of that support group, I became a public advocate for the Dream Act.

Through that work, I’ve had the opportunity to address many groups in churches and classrooms where I openly shared my story of being an undocumented immigrant, and growing up in the United States without legal status. On a few occasions, I was approached by people who were also undocumented but felt unable to share it with the world for fear of repercussions at home or in the workplace. I carry with me the memories of an L.A.-based architect, a dental assistant in Orange County, and many high schoolers who were afraid of coming out, and wondered if their lives would ever improve.

Today, Vargas’ action will have an impact on many people like them, and on many Americans who have been fed a narrow-minded view of undocumented immigrants by sloppy media coverage and an opportunistically nativist right-wing.

Vargas credits his close network of friends as a source of strength in making this decision, and mentions the Dream Act as a source of hope through the years; reminiscing of its prominent 2002 roll-out as a bipartisan bill championed by Utah’s conservative senator Orrin Hatch alongside Illinois liberal Dick Durbin. In the wait for the Dream Act and comprehensive immigration reform, the United States has lost the potential talents of thousands, while people like Vargas, myself, and the Dream activists have become exceptional success stories through hard work and, frankly, a bit of luck.

Vargas’ announcement shines light on his entrapment within an immigration system that offers deportation as the only response and appropriate punishment. Absent reforms that acknowledge that the system is broken, that people brought here as children bear no culpability for our lack of status, and that LGBT families should be equally eligible for immigration benefits, Vargas has no legal options to adjust his status. Still, he has chosen to become public to carry the national conversation on immigration forward.

Congratulations to Jose Antonio Vargas for taking this important step. May his story enlighten thousands and bring us closer to a fair and humane immigration reform.