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The Mid-Term Elections, Latino Voters, and Obama’s Executive Order on Immigration

Last September, one week after President Obama announced that he was postponing until after the mid-term elections his long-promised decision to protect 11 million undocumented immigrants from deportation by executive action, Latino activists across the country were furious. (Administration spokespersons explained that the president did not want the issue of immigration to become a political football during the election campaign, fearing that it would hurt the Democratic Party candidates on November 4.)

Armando Vazquez-Ramos, a professor of Chicano and Latino Studies in the California State University system, was one of Obama’s most vocal critics in an op-ed piece circulated widely nationwide. He wrote:

“Today I declare that I have decided to quit the Democratic Party and call upon all Latino voters to rebel, by changing their registration to 'independent' because there is no political party that deserves our vote, or truly represents the interests of our families and children.

“Obama’s deportation regime represents a form of genocide of more than 2 million Latino immigrant families, because 96% of those deported were Latinos, which is inherently a form of racialized and discriminatory law enforcement that should be prosecuted as a criminal case in an international court, and litigated as a massive violation of U.S. citizens children's rights in the United Nations and U.S. courts.

“To wit, as a result of Obama’s Deporter-in-Chief legacy, there are 700,000 U.S. born children of Mexican parents deported, now exiled in Mexico, and whose constitutional, human and children's rights have been violated. They should be given safe return to their country of birth, along with their parents and nuclear family….

“The president and the Democratic Party's leadership led us down the path of deception and without consultation dictated to Latinos to accept the nefarious S.744 legislation produced by the Senate's ‘Gang of 8,’ despite the fact that it would deport half or more of the 11 million undocumented, while militarizing the border with a $56 billion boondoggle.

“As Geronimo would say, Obama and the Democratic Party leadership ‘speak with forked tongue.’”

In a similar vein, four national leaders of the immigrant rights’ movement co-signed an article that was distributed by the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) at the end of September titled, “The Latino Political House is Divided: Which Side Are You On — Immigrant Families or the Democratic Party?” MAPA is the oldest immigrant rights’ organization in the country.

Authors Carlos Arango (Chicago), Juan José Bocanegra (Seattle), Armando Vazquez-Ramos (Long Beach, Calif.), and Nativo Vigil Lopez (Los Angeles) wrote the following:

“After committing publicly at a White House press conference to make a decision by the end of the summer, Obama announced in early September that he would wait until after the mid-term elections to decide what action to take. There is nothing conclusive indicating that any relief granted would be sweeping, bold, and inclusive — in any case. Everything about Obama's trajectory tells us that it would be cautious, limited, and conflictive.

“Vulnerable Democratic senators in tight competitive races and the Democratic Party leadership, fearful of a white voter backlash, gave off a big sigh of relief. And administration insider and outsider apologists immediately lined up to defend their patrón.

“There is a growing movement toward political independence away from both Democrats and Republicans, especially among younger voters and advocates. This is a positive outcome of the controversy.

“The demand for executive action by the president was not the product of mainstream funded groups, but of independent grassroots-based organizations fed up with the legislative impositions emanating out of Washington, D.C. Executive action became a necessity due to the impossibility of passing fair and humane immigration reform in the face of 2 million deportations and family separations, and 700,000 American minors exiled in Mexico with their deported Mexican parents. S.744, the bipartisan ‘comprehensive immigration reform’ passed by the Senate last year, was nothing but a sop to Big Business and border enforcement xenophobes, and was light on equitable legalization for immigrants.

“The National Coordinating Committee for Fair and Humane Immigration Reform 2014, in alignment with a growing independent movement of DREAMer and migrant-led organizations, advocates for immediate administrative relief and not waiting until after the mid-terms, unless the president suspends deportations for the duration of the delay. Migrant families should not pay the horribly high price for the party's election anxieties. The relief must be sweeping and bold, and include all migrants contributing to the economic recovery of the country.”

Latino Voters and November 4

Not surprisingly, a high percentage of Latino voters — especially young Latinos — did not bother to vote for either Big Business party on November 4.

E.J. Dionne, a Washington Post columnist, captured the meaning of this increased abstentionism by Latino voters in his article on November 17. “Tens of millions who supported Obama two years ago were so dispirited that they stayed away from the polls this past November 4,” Dionne wrote. “This year, 36.3 percent of eligible voters — the lowest turnout since 1942 — gave Republicans their overwhelming victory. Many of the nearly two-thirds of voters who didn’t show up (they happen to be disproportionately young and Latino) had given up on Obama and the Democrats getting anything done.”

On Spanish-language radio talk shows, immigrant rights’ leaders and activists chastised Obama and the Democrats for throwing Latino voters under the bus. “That’s what the Democrats get for refusing to grant Deferred Action [a stay on deportations] to the 11 million undocumented immigrants,” said an activist on Radio 1010 La Grande in the San Francisco Bay Area. “And if they don’t shape up and do something soon, they will lose the 2016 election as well.”

Heeding this warning, Obama announced on November 20 an executive action on administration relief that would provide a three-year stay on deportations for up to 4 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

But, as predicted by the National Committee for Fair and Humane Immigration Reform 2014, Obama’s executive order was far from “sweeping, bold, and inclusive.”

True, a large number of undocumented immigrants and immigrant rights’ organizations — mostly those that had supported the Senate’s “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” S.744 bill — applauded Obama’s “Admin Relief” and promised that the Latino voters would now be back on board with the Democrats in 2016.

Also, not unexpectedly, the leadership of the Republican Party issued thunderous denunciations of Obama’s executive order, insisting that his action was tantamount to an “amnesty bill” for 11 million “illegal” immigrants that only the Congress was authorized to approve.

But behind all the 2016 election campaign posturing on both sides of the aisle, what becomes clear as one looks at the wording of the executive order more closely is that the relief is, in fact, “cautious, limited, and conflictive,” to quote the four authors of the “Which Side Are You On?” declaration.

A Closer Look at the Executive Order

First and most important, the three-year stay on deportations does not go into effect until the middle or end of 2015, just one year before the presidential election.

Undocumented immigrants are asked to come out of the shadows and register for this administration relief. But how many will come forward knowing that (1) the relief is only temporary and (2) that Republicans could win the White House in 2016 and a new Republican President could reverse Obama’s executive order with one stroke of the pen? There is no amnesty/legalization provision in this executive action, much less a citizenship provision, so without any legal right to remain in the United States, these immigrants would be vulnerable to immediate deportation.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka hailed Obama’s decision, stating that, “President Barack Obama, like presidents before him, answered the call of millions of aspiring Americans asking for equal rights and protections in the country they call home.” But this statement is simply not true.

There are no “rights” granted in Obama’s administration relief — only limited protections. And what is being offered is far from “equal.”

Itzel Calvo, a leader of the East Bay (Calif.) Immigrant Youth Coalition explained why this is so in an article titled “Why Obama’s ‘Administration Relief’ Is NOT The Victory That So Many People Claim.” She wrote:

“Obama’s ‘Admin Relief’ offers only a temporary relief to those parents of U.S citizens or residents who have lived in the United States for at least five years and have passed a background check. We all thought that Obama’s ‘Admin Relief’ would at least benefit parents of DACA recipients, but this did not happen. It was a huge deception when even that was not on the table.

Those who will not benefit from this ‘Admin Relief’ are those already in detention, the LGBTQ community, those who continue to be detained while they are seeking refuge, the 700,000 migrant children, and recent immigrants.

“Obama’s message of increasing the deportations of ‘felons, not families,’ moreover, was another tool to deepen the gap between the ‘good immigrant’ and ‘bad immigrant’ narrative. (Indeed, in his speech, Obama made clear that his administration would continue to prioritize adding additional resources to border patrol.)

While some non-profits affirm that this is a huge victory for our community, the Immigrant Youth Coalition (IYC), along with allied grassroots organizations in California, have vowed to continue fighting for a humane and permanent relief to the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

It is essential that we continue to push for a halt to all deportations and liberation of detainees with minor criminal offenses. At the local level, we must demand the full implementation of the Trust Act across the state of California, accountability for the violations of the Trust Act by allowing those deported to come back with a U-visa, and getting ICE out of California. Only through this will we start seeing real relief in our community.”

The perspective put forward by Itzel Calvo is one that is needed to build an effective and broad-based independent immigrant rights’ movement that can win deferred action — and legalization — for all 11 million undocumented immigrants.

It is a perspective, moreover, that points to the need to link up with the labor movement in mass actions for immigrant rights — a mass movement that should also put forward the call to (1) repeal NAFTA and other “free trade” treaties that are destroying the economies and social fabric south of the border (not to mention good jobs here at home) and forcing workers and youth to leave their homes and migrate north in the hope of feeding their families, and (2) end all U.S. military aid to the “narco-government” in Mexico.

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