We are reaching a boiling point on abuses against immigrants and deportations: two million deportations and hundreds of thousands of detained immigrants in deplorable conditions. Democrats are at a turning point with Latino voters, and only President Obama can stave off a mass abandonment of his party by Latinos and immigrant communities.
Thousands of Immigrant detainees staging hunger strikes; news reports that most immigrants imprisoned as “criminals” are not; Latino voters saying broken promises on immigration will make them stay home for elections; members of Congress calling for an end to deportations; anti-deportation actions in more than 40 cities-all this and more points to how the national debate on immigration is boiling over.
We're fed up because every single day, we have to stand by and watch as an average of 1,400 households have a loved one be sent away by the current detention/deportation regime. President Barack Obama has the legal power to change the daily pain being inflicted on families across the nation- but we are still waiting for action.
If President Obama finds the courage to do what is morally right, he will be doing much more than bringing desperately needed short term relief to millions of immigrants who are already part of our economic, social and cultural fabric. He will be making the most important contribution to reboot our national political and legislative debate about immigrants and immigration policy. Only this reboot will be save his party from the Latino voter flu that polls and news reports tell us is already on the rise.
Latinos understand that both parties have brought us to this point of immigration catastrophe which has President Obama presiding over the largest number of immigrant detentions and deportations in U.S. history, the vast majority of them Mexican nationals. We know that Republicans have had more than their share of extremist rhetoric and proposals for policy.
But, we cannot and will not overlook that fact that every major immigration reform bill filed by Democratic Party leaders in Congress since the early 2000’s has also been loaded with restrictive, exclusionary and extremist Republican-like clauses shaped by xenophobia and racism.
The recent Senate Bill 744, which guaranteed more deportations, more detentions, more border abuses, and more of everything we don't want, passed as a bipartisan immigration reform bill largely under the leadership of Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer.
With Latinos in the streets and in polls clearly telling both parties to put the breaks on more punitive policies, the “bipartisan excuse” given by Democratic Party leaders for their behavior is falling on deaf ears.
What is clear to immigrant communities and our supporters is that the racist and xenophobic forces that continue to be in control of immigration policy reform will never be satisfied with concessions made to their agenda. They will always demand more, to our continued detriment. Partnership with these forces by Democrats has only served to drag them into the mud of immigrant abuse—and Latinos will not ignore this.
Democrats need to stand up to the xenophobic and racist anti-immigrant rhetoric that has driven the debate on immigration and made inhumane immigrant detention, border abuses, and record deportations possible.
It is time to reboot the public and legislative debate about immigrants and immigration policy. By ending deportations, President Obama has the opportunity to do that by standing up for the humanity of immigrants across America.
Failure to do so, however, will mire immigrants in unacceptable and inhumane conditions for countless years to come. Doing nothing will earn both Republicans and Democrats the disillusionment of Latino voters. Either we re-boot immigration policy or we all lose.
Only President Obama can secure strong Latino voter participation in the 2014 elections, and he has plenty of pathways to success. Now, he just needs to lead.
Arturo Carmona is Executive Director of Presente.org, the nation’s largest online Latino organizing group. Oscar Chacon is Executive Director of the National Alliance of Latin American & Caribbean Communities, an alliance of Latino immigrant-led community based organizations across the US.