Marcela Espinoza and Marco Pacheco stood solemnly as Capitol Hill police arrested them last Monday. The two members of the “DREAM 30”, immigrant students seeking to re-enter the country after being deported or leaving the U.S. voluntarily, were arrested on the orders of a very powerful member of Congress. One might expect the arrest order to come from one the legions of Republicans (still) committed to angering the more than 55 million Latinos in the country with their opposition to real immigration reform. But instead, the order to arrest Espinoza and Pacheco came from the office of Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas), the Latino Democrat who is chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
The arrest of the immigrant rights activists by one of the most powerful Latinos in Congress is more than just ironic. Rather, it reflects how profoundly the complex politics of immigration reform have changed. Increasingly, Democrats from President Obama on down, are the object of growing numbers of protests, marches, sit-ins and other acts of civil disobedience designed to push Democrats to stop the greatest, most immediate threat to immigrant life: the detention and deportation madness that has led Democrat Obama to become what some are calling “Deporter-In-Chief” and “the worst immigration President in US history.”
While not limited to Latinos, the destructive policies of the Obama administration - and the CHC’s obedient silence - have a disproportionate effect on Latinos. The overwhelmingmajority (more than 90 percent) of the 400,000-plus immigrants jailed yearly are Latino. Eighty six percent of those jailed have no criminal record. President Obama, whose administration (still) labels those immigrants it’s jailing and deporting “criminals”, continues and expands immigration policies that have caused Latinos to become the single largest group jailed in federal prisons.
And then there’s the tragic truth that can’t be muted with hollow calls of “Si Se Puede!” at rallies for an “immigration reform” that has no chance of passing: the overwhelming majority of the soon-to-be 2 million people deported by the administration are Mexican and Central American. Meanwhile, as the entire immigrant rights community escalates its activism in its call to end this tragedy, Hinojosa and many members of the CHC attack Republicans, get DREAMers arrested, but remain silent before President Obama’s unprecedented devastation of Latinos.
That silence raises important questions for a caucus that’s supposed to represent Latino interests. Why have many (not all) CHC members sat quietly during the greatest immigration crisis of our time, a crisis that disproportionately affects Latinos? Who does the CHC really represent? What can be done to help Hinojosa and the CHC be more than just uncritically loyal members of the Democratic and Republican parties?
While the CHC’s mission and name say it’s supposed to represent Latinos, its members’ refusal to stand up to disastrous immigration policies indicates they represent their parties more than theirpeople. With some exceptions like Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas), among others, the Democrats who make up the majority of the Hispanic Caucus, seem unable or unwilling to even pronounce the three words that would make all the difference in immigration reform: “Obama deports millions.”
Instead of simply pointing the finger at obstinate Republicans, Hinojosa and the CHC should pressure Obama, who has caused far more devastation in the lives of immigrants than the most radical Republicans. But you wouldn’t know that from CHC press releases and speeches. Some members, like Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), have even gone so far as to accept money from PACs directly linked to the prison industry that profits from the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of Latinos with no criminal record. Though not a member of the Caucus, ranking Latino Republican Senator and major immigration policy shaper, Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), has also taken money from the prison lobby.
Democrat or Republican, Latino elected officials must represent the interests of their constituents over the interests of the prison lobby or their political party. Failure to do so makes “Latino politics” a lap dog of party politics and the powerful interests that increasingly define them. We must move away from such a precarious and dangerous situation and towards a Latino politics that responds to the needs of the Latino community. Hinojosa and the CHC must break with internal party protocols and do what’s right: expose Obama’s failed immigration policies and push for change. We can longer afford to put the party before the people.
Carmona is executive director of Presente.org, the largest national Latino online advocacy organization in the country.