Many regular VivirLatino readers and followers via social media know I’ve been hitting the radio airwaves hard demystifying much of the hype around both the Senate “Gang of Eight” comprehensive immigration principles and President Obama’s blueprint. While I wrote about the bipartisan Senators’ plan here, I really haven’t had a moment to put down into print my thoughts on Obama’s “plan” as laid out last week in a speech in Las Vegas, until now.
Obama’s speech was short on details and long on perpetuating a hype machine that obscures what the administration has been doing and continues to do in terms of immigration enforcement.
Four years ago the chant “si se puede” was everywhere. Even my then two year old was saying it. This year “now’s the time” is being ushered in, as if the last four years hasn’t been filled with advocates letting the administration slide with it’s never ending release of memos and activists continuing to point out the record breaking deportation numbers thanks to the expansion of programs like Secure Communities.
What Obama did in his speech in Vegas was promote the “good” vs “bad” immigrant binary and expand upon it even by creating a hierarchy of “desirables”. Much of this was based in the language of middle class-ness or aspiring to get to that. Obama invited entrepreneurs, and engineering students while making invisible the domestic workers, street vendors, and day laborers.
The baseline of the president’s speech was naming the eleven million or so undocumented as “rule breakers” above everything else and that before any path to citizenship or legalization they need to make that right – pay taxes (which most do already), paying fines, learning English and getting to the back if the mythical line. Obama admitted that the road to citizenship would be long (10, 20 more years?) but said at least everyone could be comforted by knowing their time would come.
I’m not comforted and neither are some of my undocumented friends whom I went out with the night of Obama’s announcement.
Obama patted himself on the back for border enforcement and misrepresented who has been getting deported. He said deportation of criminals is at its highest level ever. What he didn’t acknowledge was that deportation of everyone is at the highest level ever. In the afterglow of his speech, both Obama and his favorite Latina spokesperson, Cecilia Munoz, acknowledged that yes “others” get caught up in the system. But this is why they need congress to act. The White House continues to wash it’s hands from separating millions of families. They are back to blaming Congress.
Obama also praised his administration for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the temporary response that fell far short of demands for administrative relief in the wake of the DREAM Act failing to pass in 2010.
Obama also laid the groundwork for making problematic and flaw ridden employment verification systems like E-Verify mandatory so that both workers and business can “play by the same set of rules”. The errors in this program will not just prevent the undocumented from working and keep business from hiring them, they will potentially keep hundreds of thousands of “legal” workers from employment.
Today there is the first of what will likely by many hearings in the House of Representatives on comprehensive immigration reform. So far the middle ground being offered creates more lines of separation – a hierarchy of the worthy and maybe not even a path to citizenship. I will write more on this in the coming days.
Day by day I grow increasingly more frustrated by how immigration is being talked about and about the constant and consistent reinvention of history by politicians and organizations. I can’t even imagine how undocumented communities feel. the deportation machine keeps on working while everyone else keeps on talking.