NiLPnote: The need for a critical examination of current Latino strategies for immigration reform is long overdue. It is clear that the lack of progress on this issue, made especially evident by the impasse on DACA, calls for new approaches. In the first of two commentaries below, longtime immigration policy analyst and advocate, Arnoldo S. Torres, provides such a critical and no doubt controversial critique, to be followed in a second part that will offer proposals for a new approach to immigration reform that he describes as "humane, practical, balanced and just."
NiLP Guest Commentary
Latinos and Immigration Reform: The Need for A Critical Analysis, Part 1 of 2
By Arnoldo S. Torres
The NiLP Report
This is Part I of an analysis of the immigration debate and the responsibility Latinos must examine of the strategy and tactics applied and the corresponding consequences of these actions.
Now that DACA and the President's immigration enforcement package have been placed on hold by Congress and the courts, all parties have some time to try and work out a short-term or long-term compromise. Latino and DACA "leaders" must step back and consider the strategy they have been following, its pros and what I believe are many cons. It is an arduous task they have taken on, and I respect and admire the determination, emotion, and commitment they have demonstrated to date.
However, the strategy they have been following has had little success on the bottom line, while having severe consequences. It's great to be mentioned by Hollywood actors at the 90th Oscar Awards, but that does not provide the relief and fairness being sought and earned by hardworking people whose motivations are no different than those who migrating to the US at the turn of the 19th century.
Over the last seventeen years, Latinos have seen how fear and anger has manifested itself towards our US-born and immigrant communities. Despite all who suffered (including many immigrants from many parts of the world) from the horrific and permanent scars caused by the attacks on September 11, 2001, we began to experience the unprecedented damage to our national psyche and identification. The door of anti-immigrant sentiment had been nudged open.
With the beginning of the presidential campaign in 2015 the door came off the hinges. We have been experiencing a level of intolerance, scapegoating, ignorance, nationalist xenophobia and racism most had not seen or felt before. Those of us who remember that these attitudes and behavior have long been a part of our history in this nation also remember the ugly experiences of our parents and grandparents. I cannot help but believe that fixing that damn door may not be possible after what we have been through the last seven years.
Latino Contributions to Our Problems and Challenges
Latinos need to accept the reality that we have a fair share of responsibility for what has happened to us in this immigration dynamic. The perspective and analysis I offer do not come at an easy time nor will it be well received by many. However, I ask that you look beyond the political correctness lens that will surely be applied. Some will say how dare I question what Latino advocates on immigration have been doing. I would respond how dare there is no dialogue or transparency of what has been going on for years with no tangible results! It is essential and imperative that all so-called "movements del pueblo, of conscious" have a critical analysis of their strategy, tactics, plans, and results.
It was Latino "Dreamers" who accepted the political argument and strategy that said ---- "These kids are not to blame for the actions of their parents who brought them to the US illegally." This political argument should never have been made, and the political strategy never followed. But liberal left and "progressive" foundations began to fund immigrant rights groups during the Obama years, and this was the argument and strategy followed to a tee. Democratic leaders went right along.
"Dreamers" were portrayed as being "Americans" who have and would contribute significantly to the nation because they were educated, had or were willing to serve in the military and their faces and pictures made for excellent optics. It was clear that the strategist behind this approach believed that these pictures and young faces would be hard to condemn. Another clear element in this self-defeating strategy was the confident feeling that Hilary would take care of all remaining undocumented family members.
This line of argument and thinking was dishonorable and unfair to the parent generation in the US. Parents who entered the US without papers did not do so to hurt their children. Their parents were seeking what parents all over the world want, economic survival and opportunity for their family. The parent generation of the "Dreamers," like their parents before them, were recruited and encouraged to come to the US by specific industries. Over
time these industries became dependent on and preferred these immigrant workers over US-born workers. In other words, Mexicans were not the cause of any displacement, the economic market and US-born workers work ethic changed. This process formally and informally began during the first World War because of labor shortages.
These generations of undocumented immigrants have made exceptional contributions to this nation up until this very time in our history. They have labored hard in whatever jobs they secured, they have paid taxes, made sure their children did well in school so one day they would meet the criteria for the DACA program, they purchased homes, started small and medium businesses, took jobs that paid little and offered little protection or benefits but were indispensable to our economy, and seldom complained!
Shame on the Republicans who have portrayed these generations of hard-working people as welfare dependents, criminals, drug smugglers, or "not the best." Shame on Democrats for speaking out of both sides of their mouths while playing politics with the desperation of vulnerable people, and hubris and inexperience of youth that found a voice. Shame on the liberal foundations and the Frank Sharry's (America's Voice) in this network who were fighting other battles besides the one that was facing good people.
This unprecedented investment in the immigrant community has undoubtedly raised the profile of DACA recipients, helped fund the building of capacity and infrastructure of immigrant community advocacy groups. They indeed developed and gave voice to the individuals who became DACA leaders. However, these liberal/progressive institutions and their public faces contributed significantly to the strategy, talking points and tactics that put exclusive focus and political capital on DACA recipients. DACA has pushed aside all the other immigration policy, domestic and international issues confronting the large Latino family that exists in the US.
I do not doubt that there is good faith and that there are many individuals on the left that are well motivated and committed. However, there should be no doubt that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." This side of the political spectrum has a clear pattern of telling us what is in minorities best interest and how to get there. They may not see it as clearly as many of us have over decades, but do not doubt its existence, prevalence, and negative consequences.
The challenge Latinos and Dreamers must overcome is the inclination to place critical issues before us in only a political context. We seriously ignore the role policy has in deciding the future and moving the needle. I am not naïve enough to maintain that perfection should be the enemy of good, but I certainly hope I will not hear perfection should not be our motivation. Politics is not the engine that drives all things and cannot replace sound policy proposals that are opposed because they do not satisfy our bias or ignorance. Bad public policy makes for bad politics and presents intended and unintended consequences for the future. It is a dangerous habit to break as evidenced by what Congress has been doing for far too long.
Latino Role and Responsibility on Immigration Policy
We have a unique challenge as Latinos. We must provide a path to solving this public policy puzzle while avoiding the ugly attitudes and behavior that are rampant today. We must undertake a critical assessment of our tactics, strategies, activities, and words we use because words are essential not only on one side but all. This self-critique is hard to undertake; it's always easier to point the finger. Latinos have played a key role in not achieving what we say we seek --- a practical, humane, efficient and fair immigration reform. There are aspects of this long and ugly road traveled that we must understand (from more than one point of view and experiences) discuss, dissect and correct if we are to bring about what we say we seek.
How I Learned About Immigration
My perspectives, ideas, and vision for humane, practical, fair and just immigration policy for this nation began to be developed 39 years ago in 1979. I had the honor of serving as the legislative director for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in Washington, D.C. I had the privilege of working with a group of people from other nationally known organizations on the recommendations of the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy (SCIRP) for comprehensively reforming US immigration policy. Law created the Commission in 1978, making it bi-partisan and included four public members representing labor unions, local and state government, and the judicial branch.
It could not have been created nor efficiently functioned today because there is a dangerous lack of courage and leadership in Congress on both sides of the aisle. It appears, by their statements and actions, that the majority of Congressional members are incredibly ignorant of the dynamics surrounding US immigration policy, the "push" and "pull" factors that cause people to take phenomenal risks. They have intentionally failed to read and comprehend the history of these factors that virtually color all immigrants to the US with the same desperation, survival instincts, desires, and dreams. These members have not elevated the tone of the emotionally charged rhetoric or imagery, but intentionally over-simplified the complexities and motives of immigration movements. There are too many "aggrieved parties" who lack the desire to solve problems facing the nation unless they can satisfy the growing ideology and political silos on the right AND left! They follow a very narrow and faulty narrative on immigration.
I learned first-hand the many facets, difficult choices, and responsibilities associated with the realities surrounding immigration policy many years before my experience in D.C. I began working in the tomato fields of California agriculture at the age of ten. It was not a summer outing but a necessity. I had the responsibility of having to pay for my school clothes for the year which was referred to as "la cosa Christiana" as my grandfather put it. My mother and uncles began work at an earlier age in Texas, younger than ten years old while going to school.
Beginning at five-years-old, and every other year after until I was 28, I would visit relatives in Ciudad Delicias, Chihuahua, Mexico. I came to recognize early the sacrifices my grandfather made to cross the border at the age of 12 to work as a water boy on the railroads of Texas. At 17 he was able to so bring his mother, brother, and sister to the US. Two generations of my family experienced a great deal of discrimination before I began to see and feel it when I was very young.
Political Parties and Media
Elected officials, from both political colors, express their concerns about the immigration polemic, defending or attacking one another insisting that their positions are true and pure. Posturing for their ideological fan base is primary while facts and knowledge play a secondary role. There is a prevalent attitude of "don't confuse me with the facts" because my base only wants "red meat" regardless of its quality. Both parties have made this issue so toxic by having it be more about politics than about policy, fairness and economic reality.
At such a crucial time for Latinos and the nation, we have two ill-prepared political parties who cannot rise to the challenge of what the world sees is the demise of the shining country on the hill. Liberals believe Democrats are better for us, but that is because Republicans care so little about us.
Making a significant contribution to this dynamic has been a President that began his campaign by revving up the deepest seeded xenophobic characteristics of American nationalism. He has made it so much easier for this ugly side of nationalism to be manifested in the style of a Tucker Carlson show or commentary by the mean and hypocritical Ann Coulter or Laura Ingraham ----all in the name of Making America Great Again.
Fox News churns out the type of stereotypes Hollywood used decades ago and even to this day about Latinos, they ignore facts and make sure that the Latino immigrant profile never deviates from the criminal, drug dealer, and threat to US security and motherhood. The very people whose history in this nation includes organized crime, criminals in their countries of origin, and enemies against the US in TWO world wars now sit in harsh judgment of us.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have Jorge Ramos of Univision forgetting that he is the journalist but behaves like a one-dimensional advocate. He is well intended and has become the darling of the political left in journalism. You want a Latino to talk about immigration; the English media selects Jorge who provides no real insight but ticks off the usual talking points. Then we have CNN whose, hosts, panels/guests discussing immigration are primarily non-immigrants and non-Latinos. The guests representing the left and the right say all the typical things but in a very chaotic format. They exhibit such intolerance for one another that it turns-off the viewer and furthers the divide and ignorance.
President Obama and the 45th President
It is critical to underscore the negative role President Obama contributed to this situation, as well as the "progressive left." Mr. Obama set an unprecedented pace on deportations and an all too confusing rationale and narrative for his actions. In the same week he, or his representatives, would tell us that he cared about our community while ICE agents apprehended and deported "criminals" who were food vendors, mothers, and fathers who
were doing their jobs. During his eight years in office the term "criminal," as applied to undocumented persons, was played with at the expense of hard-working people who contributed so much more to this country than they had taken.
As the 45th President came to power Latinos had been under assault for eight years on immigration matters by a "well-intentioned" Mr. Obama. The situation has worsened significantly since the election of an administration and demagogue that have made immigrants the critical cornerstone and target of his populist nationalist agenda. This administration and its Congressional defenders have made an apparent political decision --- use immigration as the vehicle to reinforce fear of demographic and economic changes, along with feelings of nationalistic displacement of their base voters.
Arnoldo S. Torres, principal with Torres2Policy Consultants based in Elk Grove, California, served as the National Executive Director of LULAC from 1981 to 1985. He has testified extensively on all aspects of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1985. He was involved in the writing of several amendments to IRCA and continues to work on current reform efforts. He provides political analysis in Spanish and English and writes op-eds for newspapers and other publications nationally. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.