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11/8: Immigration Reform, Obama and the Struggle Ahead
Released 09 November 2012  By FAMILIA LATINA UNIDA

Immigration Reform, Obama and the Struggle Ahead


We shared the excitement of millions in the president’s victory over Romney, the Wall Street money changers and the tea party republicans to which Romney had tied himself. It was a sweet victory for humanity. We were equally excited at the nation’s recognition of the demographic dawning of a new day as nearly 30% of the electorate – African American, Latino and Asian – took its place in the future of this country and determined the outcome of this election. We breathed a sigh of relief, free of Romney’s threat of forced “self-deportation”, and filled with the possibility of a steady transition to a just nation.

After the election, we heard the commentators and the President’s spokespersons talk about the critical contribution of the strongly unified Latino vote and their note that it would continue to grow. Then we heard one after the other begin to talk about passing comprehensive immigration reform, pointing to the 65% of voters who told exit polls they favored legalization of the undocumented. The democrats joyfully pronounced the death of a Republican party which would not pass immigration reform and would gradually fade out of political relevance.

For a minute we left our senses but were quickly brought back by a couple of comments. First, one of the white house surrogates came on MSNBC warning sternly that we would have to “keep the left in line” as the President moved to make a new coalition with moderate Republicans and maintain control of “the center” in this country. In a flashback, we remembered that President Clinton had gone through the same process.

The midterm election in his first term had left him with Gingrich and the new right wing agenda in control of the House. After he won reelection, he set about his coalition with moderate republicans. It was a disaster that led to a welfare reform that punished Latinos, NAFTA that brought on the waves of unemployed Mexicans crossing the border to survive – and the 1996 immigration act. This 1996 immigration law is what we have been calling “the broken law” for the last fifteen years and it is the law directly responsible for millions of deportations, deaths on the desert and broken families.

Is Barack headed for this new kind of Clinton center right coalition? Everything in his history - that we in Chicago know about - would lead us to think so. Then we heard Obama policy spokesperson David Axlerod come on television.

Axlerod said that the President would make a commitment to get the congress to pass immigration reform. Then he explained how the President had tried so hard to pass immigration reform with the republicans in his first year – but the Republicans had deserted him.

In fact, Obama made a calculated political decision not to bring immigration reform before the Congress. His chief of staff Rahm Emanuel stated publically that “immigration reform will not happen until the second term of a democratic president – if then.” Vice President Biden proclaimed in Paris that to “legalize 12 million undocumented with 10% unemployment would be political suicide.”

When the economic studies that proved legalization would actually create jobs – a stimulus based on justice – the white house first agreed, prepared a press conference and then determined it “was too difficult a message to get across.” Instead the President prevailed on the Democratic leadership time and time again to kill any reform bill before it could hit the floor of either house.

When the Hispanic caucus asked for a meeting to discuss just one subject – immigration reform – the President stalled them for six months, and then set up a task force which did nothing. Adding insult to injury, the President loudly proclaimed that he was excluding “illegals” from his health care proposal.

We said the President broke his promise – because he did: purposefully with conviction!
Even as he told members of congress privately that reform legislation was dead in the new republican congress he announced publically that he was working hard to get reform debated in the congress.

The plan was simple: prevent passage of immigration reform but put the blame on the Republicans. That would bring him the Latino vote in huge numbers – and the Obama team was all about the numbers. The Latino vote in 2012 rose to 10% of the total vote. If Romney had gotten George Bush’s percentage of the Latino vote, some 40%, he would have won the election. It was clear that the immigration issue united the Latino community, largely because of a relentless fifteen year mass movement. If it had been resolved through the passage of immigration reform the Latino vote would have likely been divided much more equally because of conservative Latino opposition to abortion and gay marriage, supported both by Latino evangelicals and the Catholic hierarchy.

By deftly killing any effort to bring comprehensive immigration reform to the floor and blaming the Republicans for its failure, the white house sought to control the 70% of the Latino vote that was needed to win reelection. The White House needed to win both a high percentage AND a high turnout. The racist, Tea Party hard core in the Republican Party took the bait and the not-for-profit dominated immigrant rights movement fell in line as requested, giving the President a pass, pressing for a “down-payment legislative initiative” and, most importantly, blaming the Republicans.

The problem was that the Latino community saw through the charade and became so disillusioned with the “President who broke his promise” that it became clear they would withhold their votes in the next election. Evangelicals threatened to return to the republicans, citing Obama’s record number of deportations. Others said they would just not vote for President.

It was then that Congressman Gutierrez took up Familia Latina Unida’s demand for the President to use his executive authority to stop the deportations and give the undocumented the same temporary status that a former president had given the first Cuban exiles.

Obama resisted for a year – even calling in Latino celebrities who emerged from the White House saying, “The President doesn’t have the authority to stop the deportations.” The President stood in front of 4,000 Latino leaders and said, “I do not have the authority” – to which they responded with chants of “Yes you can, yes you can!” The President continued to duck the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Gutierrez’ national campaign finally broke the back of the White House lie. The President admitted he did indeed have the authority to grant temporary legal status to millions. Under persistent pressure, the President initiated the policy of prosecutorial discretion to close cases of parents with U.S. citizen children. Sadly, almost immediately, Homeland Security began to minimize use of the new policy and retracted on the promise of issuing work permits.

In December of 2011, Gutierrez almost singlehandedly forced the House democratic leadership to bring up and pass the dream act in the House. Although it failed in the Senate by five democratic votes, its passage in the House set the context for intensifying the demand on the President for executive action. In March of 2012, Gutierrez brought the Familias Unidas campaign to North Carolina with a threat to mobilize at the upcoming democratic convention. Finally, reading the polls that documented Latino disaffection, Obama agreed to give temporary legal status and work permits to 1.6 million dreamers, beginning on August 15th, two and one half months before the election!

Based on the President’s concession to use his executive authority, Congressman led an effort to mobilize the Latino vote to reelect the President an effort that was overwhelmingly accepted. To paraphrase the Scriptures, “The (undocumented) stones the Builder threw away, became the cornerstone of his reelection.”

That is the truth about Obama’s commitment to immigration reform!

Now comes the President and his surrogates talking about passing reform legislation in the Republican controlled house. It is not going to happen – although a version of the dream act has a chance. Tea Party Republicans – and Republican congressman facing reelection in two years in Tea Party districts - are just not going to let it happen. While the growing Latino vote has a powerful influence on national and statewide elections, it has little influence in congressional districts with limited or no Latino presence.

If Obama tries to take us down that road again - and attempts to hold on to the Latino vote by blaming the Republicans and delivering nothing but another two million deportations - we should not accept it. There is a viable alternative.

Now that we have proven that the President has the constitutional authority to grant temporary legal status and work permits to the undocumented we should make that our demand – pending the passage of a just comprehensive immigration reform. We should demand of the President that he act on the demonstrated support of the people (now at 65%) while the congress is deadlocked. He should extend and expand the DACA deferments and work permits to include their parents and the parents of U.S. citizen children – and to agricultural workers as well!
Since we have made our case to the American people and we have proven that the President has the necessary authority, why should we wait while another million people are deported and hundreds of thousands of families destroyed?

There is another reason why we should demand that the President act before dragging us through a long process through in a deadlocked congress. As long as the President is continuing with mass deportations, e-verifications and up scaled border patrols that funnel migrants to the most dangerous crossings, why should the Republicans negotiate a bill for immigration reform? They are getting everything they want without it!

On the other hand, if the President gives temporary legal status and work permits to the undocumented – as was done for the first Cuban refugees – then the Republicans will have a reason to pass a bill to bring these workers under the law. But in this case, our people will be protected and we won’t be tempted to accept whatever repressive, criminalizing bill they want us to pass! Most importantly, the pressure on the President will induce him to live up to his promises – for a change! Let us hope that the President will remember


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