The Tanked Debate on Immigration Reform Exhibits the Leadership Deficit Among Latinos

Chamba SanchezBy Chamba SanchezDecember 16, 2019

In 2016, the passionate and vitriolic debate about immigration reform was front and center in the presidential election. Trump became president, and the political needle for immigration reform never moved.  This lack of progress sheds light on the need for an engaged, committed, and imaginative leadership.

Reactive leadership has not been helpful. Activists and community organizations in the immigrant community have been playing defense.  The relentless assaults on multiple fronts on undocumented immigrants don’t let up.  The attacks range from inhuman treatment of immigrant children at the border to constant raids to the dismantling of Obama’s executive actions that provided relief to the DREAMers.

In less than two months, voters in Iowa will begin casting their votes for the Democratic nominee who will face Trump in November 2020.  None of the leading Democratic candidates has put forward a coherent legislative proposal that will deal with the inhumane immigration system we have in place. Of course, they still engage in “Hispandering” uttering the usual platitudes for Latino audiences.

Latinos are going to be the largest minority ethnic group voting next year, with 32 million eligible voters.  Democratic presidential candidates should be courting us aggressively with policy proposals beneficial to our community.  Neither party appears to be interested in earning our votes. Democrats know that the majority of us have no place to go, and we will always vote for them. Republicans do not even look at us since they know they have no chance.  We have no leverage.

The DREAMers are about to lose their protections.  The Supreme Court heard arguments last month whether President Trump has the right to shut down the temporary protection President Obama provided to 700,000 young people.   Constitutional scholars who are watching the hearings closely are predicting that the conservative court will side with Trump.  A real travesty, these young people have done everything they have been told to do, and this country is telling them that they are not wanted.

Also, last week, the House of Representatives passed a bill that will provide legalization or some amnesty to “illegal” immigrant farmworkers.  A “Certified Agricultural Worker,” as it is called, is a designation “lasting five-and-a-half years if they have worked for at least six months on farms within the past two years.” It is excellent that these hardworking Campesinos are getting some help.  Nevertheless, this piecemeal approach underlines the well-thought-out leadership needed for a comprehensive immigration bill that could include the eleven million undocumented immigrants in this country.

Activists who advocate for immigrant rights have lost control of the dominant narrative about immigration reform.  Conservative and nativist forces are now in control and have constructed a new venomous and debased narrative that changed from family-based to a merit-based system. Their solution solely focuses on enforcement, they clearly are disconnected from the reality on the ground. These anti-immigrant forces have internalized the fiction that eleven million people can be expunged from communities across America with the ICE’s wand.

Republicans also tell us that the immigration debate is not about giving “illegal” immigrants what they want or what activists tell them what they deserve.  Immigration should be about what is best for this country. Nativists argue they must make a concerted effort to “assimilate.” What they mean by that, is that we, immigrants, need to learn the language, be a productive citizen and get an education, and learn how the institutions of democracy work.  These nativists are oblivious to the fact that many of us have done all that and more.  Furthermore, all we want is just an opportunity so we can contribute more.

Our “liberal” or “progressive” political friends, on the other hand, on the campaign trail, they all are after our support the day before the election.  Then, they are after our throat the day after the election.   And, all of this happens with no consequences.

President Obama is a good case in point.  Our community worked hard to make sure he got elected.  Once in office, he gave us comprehensive enforcement and not the reform he promised us.  He also hired many activists and leaders in our community.  They all became his mouthpieces.  Cecilia Munoz spent eight years blaming Republicans for the lack of legislative action in Congress. Notwithstanding, Munoz conveniently overlooked the fact that in Obama’s first year as President, Democrats controlled both Houses in Congress.

Obama also hired Hilda Solis for a high profile cabinet position-Secretary of Labor.  Obama used Solis for immigration rallies. Janet Mungia, who led the “National Council of La Raza,” now known as “UnidosUS” and labor leaders, Eliseo Medina, and Dolores Huerta, frequently descended at the White House for superficial events. Obama wined and dined these leaders while he was massively deporting hardworking undocumented immigrants.  Dolores Huerta even got the Medal of Freedom from him. True sell-outs!

California needs immigration reform,  our state is the home of one in five undocumented immigrants.  It truly is difficult to fathom to see this large number of hardworking undocumented immigrants living in the shadows and seeing our congressional representatives not leading the effort for legislative action.  I see them taking trips to the border and call for press conferences to tell us what we already know. Cardenas, Gomez, Linda Sanchez, Barragan, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Ted Liu, etc. should be leading the charge in the House.  The immigrant community must miss former representative Gutierrez, who relentlessly and consistently advocated for the immigrant community in Congress.

We, Latinos, are a very diverse community, and immigration is not the only issue we care about.  Our numbers have been growing substantially in the last two decades, and we have many brown faces leading powerful foundations, in academia, in businesses, non-profit organizations, and elected political offices.  Yet that progress has not translated into the betterment of our community. We should endeavor to have an honest and robust conversation as to how we can effectively use our political power to benefit our greater good in our community.

Yes, I am a single-issue voter. I want immigration reform!

Thank you for reading.

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Photo Credit: Stocksphotos online.

Sources used.
Enchautegui, Maria E. “Is piecemeal immigration reform that bad? Yes!” The Blog of Urban Institute 27 Jan. 2014. Web. 14 Dec. 2019.
Kamarck, Elaine and Christine Stenglein. “How many undocumented immigrants are in the United States and who are they?” Policy 2020 Brookings 12 Nov. 2019. Web. 14 Dec. 2019.
Rey Koslowski, Rey. “Hey, Congress: It’s comprehensive immigration reform or nothing.” The Christian Science Monitor 21 May 2014. Web. 15 Dec. 2019.
Johnson, Hans and Sergio Sanchez. “Immigrants in California.” Public Policy Institute of California-PPIC 10 May 2019. Web. 15 Dec. 2019.
McCammond, Alexi. “The first-time Latino voters.” Axios.com 14 Dec. 2019. Web. 14 Dec. 2019.
Navarrette Jr., Ruben. “Millions of Latinos are Trump supporters. Here’s what they’re thinking.” US Today 26 Nov. 2019. Web. 14 Dec. 2019.
Stieber, Zachary.  “Hose Approves Bill Giving Some Illegal Immigrant Farmworkers Amnesty.” The Epoch Times 12 Dec. 2019. Web. 15 Dec. 2019.
Valverde, Maria. “Did Senate pass immigration bills in 2006, 2013 and House failed to vote on them?” Punditfact.com 26 Jan. 2019.  Web. 13 Dec. 2019.

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