The following is a guest post by Italia S. Aranda, a 2013 Fellow of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) program.
Last year, people all over the United States spoke out like never before on why we need to fix this country’s broken immigration system. Undocumented mothers participated in acts of civil disobedience that led to their arrests, immigrant youth organized their communities with more energy than ever, and organizations all around the country joined forces to put pressure on Congress to reach a sensible solution. 2013 became the year when many families fought as one. We realized that what makes this movement different is not the fear, uncertainty, or struggles we face every single day as undocumented immigrants, but rather the strength, determination, and willingness that is born in our hearts.
As an undocumented immigrant who benefited from President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals process, or DACA, I am often asked why last year I fought harder than ever for comprehensive immigration reform. A world of possibilities opened up after being granted deferred action.Because of DACA, I now have a social security number and a two-year work permit. Not only am I now able to pursue my dream of going to medical school, but I’m now also able to travel safely around the country and go to bed each night knowing that for the next two years, the possibility of my deportation has drastically decreased.
But this is not the case for my parents, who don’t qualify for deferred action. DACA was meant to help DREAMers who have waited all of their lives to be able to give back to this country by earning degrees and joining the workforce. But immigration reform is not just about DREAMers. It is about remembering that our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and entire families have always contributed to this country’s growth and success, regardless of immigration status or college degree.
I continue to fight for comprehensive immigration reform because my parents gave up some of their dreams so I could follow mine. My parents had me when they were only teenagers. They did not have the opportunity to finish high school, and although they wanted to go to college with all of their hearts, they suddenly had a family to sustain. So they began working – my mom as a seamstress, and my dad in any and all jobs he could get. But it was never enough, and when Mexico’s economy began to worsen they knew that they would never be able to afford an education for my brother and me in our home country. They saw education as a way out of poverty, as a way to end the cycle of monumental struggles that had affected our family for generations. But no one ever wakes up in the morning wanting to leave everything behind – your relatives, your friends, and everything you own – to become an undocumented immigrant.
For many immigrant families, uncertainty rules your life. This last holiday season alone, thousands of families had empty seats around the table. In some cases, their mom had been deported. In others, their dad was spending weeks, months, or even years in a detention facility. No one should have to go through that kind of pain.
The fight for comprehensive immigration reform is about more than a piece of legislation. It is a fight for human dignity and human rights. I continue to fight alongside millions of others so that our families no longer have to live through the uncertainty, the fear, and the injustice. I fight so my parents can one day follow their own dreams, so they can one day feel like human beings again.
The following is a guest post by Cairo Mendes, a 2013 Fellow of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) program.
When I came to the U.S. in 2002, I remember being told on the way home from the airport that I was undocumented. I was told that if anyone knew this, our whole family would be deported and we would lose out on the “American Dream.” That was over ten years ago, but as I write this I cannot help but hold back emotions – a mixture of anger, sadness, and confusion. I feel this way because ten years later, millions of people in our country – including my mother – continue to live in limbo, in the shadows. We continue to be treated as second class citizens.
When I recently received a call informing me that I would be covered under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) process, I was working at a factory, recycling wire. I remember the joy and relief I felt at that moment. For the first time I would be able to have a social security card and a work permit. I felt like maybe, just maybe, I too could be “normal” and get a driver’s license. Yet later that day, my happiness became bittersweet. My mom – my strong, heroic, single mother – would not be able to receive those same benefits. Still, when I got home later that day I realized how happy she was for me. It was then that I told her, looking straight into her eyes: “Mom, we will figure a way out of this. We will fight, we will march, and we will organize – we are going to figure out a way.”
When President Obama won reelection in 2012 after receiving 71 percent of the Latino vote (compared to Romney’s 27 percent), I felt for the first time that we were on the offensive. From the rhetoric coming from Washington to the energy within the immigrant rights movement in the weeks following the elections, immigration reform was finally a real possibility. But it has not been an easy road. Even though we were able to push the Senate to pass an immigration reform bill through our lobbying, organizing, and advocacy efforts, House leadership has – until very recently – been closed off to the calls for reforms, ignoring the cries of families throughout the country.
As a result, we ended 2013 with no bill delivered. The extreme right – small but loud faction of the Republican Party – managed to derail any efforts involving citizenship, and Speaker Boehner avoided putting the Senate bill up for a vote. His inaction could cost the Republican Party in the 2016 elections, since immigration reform is a top issue for Latino voters.
The Senate immigration reform bill is not perfect, but as families struggle to live day by day, comprehensive immigration reform is still a light at the end of the tunnel. It will make legalization – and hopefully citizenship – possible for many who have lived in the shadows until now, like my family.
This debate goes beyond stats about how many billions of dollars could be added to the economy as a result of reform. This is a moral issue. And it’s one that – if not resolved soon – will result in more deportations and more family separations that damage individual lives and diminish our country as a whole.
Because of Congress’ inaction, mothers and fathers are still being separated from their children and loved ones as 2014 begins. We cannot wait – our communities need relief now.
It has been 140 days of inaction since the Senate passed a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill that moves us closer to addressing our broken immigration system. But all of this progress has stalled in the GOP-led House, where they have chosen to align with extremists in their party rather than with business, civic and faith groups across the political spectrum that support reform.
This was made clear earlier this week, when Speaker Boehner confirmed that he has “no intentions of every going to conference” with the Senate on its bipartisan immigration legislation, once again showing where House leadership takes its cues. In a report released earlier this summer, PFAW laid out the clear choices facing Republicans as the pressing need for serious immigration fixes looms over families and our economy. While there is a lack of will to act on the part of House GOP leadership, immigration reform activists around the country are not sitting passively by. We are speaking up, planning actions, and calling out those who continue to stand in the way of common-sense reform.
Immigration reform activists and President Obama have renewed the push for Congress to act on much-needed immigration legislation this year. We now see new movement as three Republicans have joined numerous Democrats in the House in co-sponsoring legislation that moves us closer to reform.
The question to ask going forward is whether House Republican leaders will side with extreme right-wing voices -- the same voices that shut down government -- or the majority of Americans who support a bi-partisan solution. It’s a clear choice and Republican leaders in the House have the power to move reform forward. All of this is laid out in People For’s recent Right Wing Watch report: Congressional Republicans' Clear Choice on Immigration.
With so many distractions these days, from an ongoing government shutdown, to debt limit deadlines, you can imagine how easy it may be for other issues to go by the wayside. That’s why it’s increasingly important that we keep pressing elected leaders to act on major concerns, such as comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), that have been targeted by conservative extremists looking to stall and derail every bit of President Obama’s agenda.
As has been report on many news outlets, that fight continued earlier this week as activists called attention to the need for CIR with rallies on the National Mall and around the country. This and so many other issues have hit road blocks in congress because of right-wing voices stymieing progress.
People For made a point of calling out those extreme voices in a report released earlier this summer entitled, “Congressional Republicans' Clear Choice on Immigration.” This report shines a light on many of the activists working to block CIR, and calls on congressional leaders to stand with the majority of both parties to move forward on this important issue.
Right Wing Watch reported this summer about the creation of the Black American Leadership Alliance (BALA), a new anti-immigrant group designed to appeal to African Americans, which is just the latest member of a closely knit circle of anti-immigrant groups tied to Nativist leader John Tanton.
Also part of that circle are the three most prominent groups working to stop immigration reform in Congress: The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and Numbers USA.
Our friends at the immigrants’ rights groups America’s Voice, Black Alliance For Just Immigration and Center for New Community have put together a great, short video illustrating the ties between these groups and how they’re working together to try to bring down the new immigration law.
Last week, People For the American Way issued its latest Right Wing Watch: In Focus report on the stark choice presented to congressional Republicans: stand up for the comprehensive immigration reform supported by a strong majority of Americans, or stand with anti-immigrant extremists using lies and bigotry to derail it.
On Tuesday, we hosted a telebrieifing with PFAW members to discuss the report, the prospects for reform in the House of Representatives and how activists can help make a difference.
If you missed it, you can listen to the call here.
And, of course, take a look at the report itself, Congressional Republicans' Clear Choice on Immigration: Stand With Pro-Reform Majorities or Cave to Anti-Immigrant Extremists.
In a presentation last week at the offices of New Democrat Network, a Washington, D.C. think tank, political analyst Simon Rosenberg challenged the Republican resistance to comprehensive immigration reform. According to Rosenberg, the GOP’s arguments against legalization of undocumented immigrants are based on faulty numbers and false proselytizing. The GOP argues that the border is violent and therefore requires greater security and more border patrol officers. They criticize the track record of the Obama administration and argue that the president can’t be trusted to secure the border. They argue that once we reward those who have entered the country illegally with citizenship, the floodgates will open, and immigrants will flock from countries all across Latin America.
According to Rosenberg, the reality is just the opposite.
“The border is safer, the immigration system is better, and Mexico is modernizing and growing,” Rosenberg said. From 2004 to 2012, the number of border patrol agents on the ground has doubled. The yearly apprehension rate fell to only 19 apprehensions per agent in 2012, a dramatic decrease from the average rate of 306 per agent back in 1992. Rosenberg argued that the increasing number of patrol officers and the steadily declining apprehensions rate indicate that the current border patrol is more than capable of handling the border situation. While the Republicans are arguing for thousands more officers, the workload per officer is already reasonable.
Rosenberg also argued that the Obama administration has made great gains in improving the immigration system. The use of more targeted I-9 audits and the use of prosecutorial discretion to prioritize criminals for deportation are both notable gains that the White House and the Department of Homeland Security should take credit for.
Lastly, Rosenberg argued that Mexico’s own success in terms of GDP growth and increased trade with the U.S. bodes well for the future of the country. Increased cooperation with Mexico is yet another avenue for improving the immigration system.
Rosenberg’s closing message was clear. We have made great progress, but we need a comprehensive immigration reform bill with a reasonable path to citizenship. And if we have any hope of reaching a bipartisan agreement, the GOP’s lies need to be repudiated.
Earlier this week, PFAW’s Right Wing Watch caught this rant by American Family spokesman and all-purpose bigot Bryan Fischer, who declared on his radio program that American Latinos voted Democratic in record numbers this year because “they want big government goodies.”
Hispanics are not Democrats, don’t vote Democrat, because of immigration. That’s not the main reason why they vote for Democrats. It doesn’t have anything to do with lax immigration policy. It has to do with the fact that they are socialists by nature. They come from Mexico, which is a socialist country. They want big government intervention. They want big government goodies. It’s primarily about that.
Now, they want open borders, make no mistake, because they’ve got family and friends that they want to come up and be able to benefit from the plunder of the wealth of the United States just as they have been willing to do. Republicans can pander all they want to Hispanics, to immigrants, and it will not work. There is no way on Earth you’re going to get them to leave the Democratic party, it’s one reason we’ve got to clamp down on immigration.
Fischer’s racist diatribe echoes generations of right-wing innuendo about “handouts” for minorities. It also, as it happens, lines up pretty closely with the worldview of 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. In a call with donors today, Romney blamed his presidential loss on the “gifts” President Obama offered to African Americans, Latinos, women and young people. What “gifts” did he mean? Universal health care, contraception coverage, college loans and the DREAM Act.
The New York Times reported on the call:
A week after losing the presidential election to President Obama, Mitt Romney blamed his overwhelming electoral loss on what he said were big “gifts” that the president had bestowed on loyal Democratic constituencies — including young voters, African-Americans and Hispanics.
In a conference call on Wednesday afternoon with his national finance committee, Mr. Romney said that the president had followed the “old playbook” of wooing specific interest groups — “especially the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people,” Mr. Romney explained — with targeted gifts and initiatives.
“In each case they were very generous in what they gave to those groups,” Mr. Romney said.
“With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest, was a big gift,” he said. “Free contraceptives were very big with young college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008.”
“You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity, I mean, this is huge,” he said. “Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus. But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.”
Sure, Bryan Fischer is more willing than Mitt Romney to say outright racist things. But the content of what they’re saying is pretty much the same. Bill O’Reilly put it even more clearly when he opined that “traditional America” was being lost to people of color who “want stuff.”
I have to guess this is not going to be the way for Republicans to win back non-white voters, women and young people, all of whom have been fleeing their party in droves.
Losing the Latino vote "spells doom for us." - Mitt Romney, April 15, 2012
"Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community." - President Obama, October 26, 201 2
At last, bipartisan agreement! You don't need a degree in political science to know this: demonizing and alienating the fastest-growing group in the country is no way to build long-term political success. Pair that with the fact that demonizing any group of Americans is un-American and just plain wrong. But in recent years, Republicans, and especially party standard-bearer Mitt Romney, just haven't been able to help themselves. In an effort to win over a shrinking and increasingly extreme base, Romney and team have sold their souls to get the Republican presidential nomination. And they went so far to do it that even their famous etch-a-sketch won't be able to erase their positions.
As Mitt Romney knows, the slipping support of the GOP among Latinos is no mystery. We've seen this movie before, in 1994, when Republican California Gov. Pete Wilson pushed anti-immigrant smears to promote California's anti-immigrant Prop 187 which in turn buoyed his own tough re-election campaign. It worked in the short term - both the ballot measure and Gov. Wilson won handily - but what a long term price to pay as California became solidly blue for the foreseeable future.
We're now seeing what happened in California at a national scale. Harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric helped Romney win the Republican primary. But in the general election, it may well be his downfall.
In case you tuned out Romney's appeals to the anti-immigrant Right during the primaries, here's a quick recap. He ran ads specifically criticizing Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court justice. He says he'd veto the DREAM Act , a rare immigration provision with overwhelming bipartisan support. He took on anti-immigrant leader Kris Kobach, architect of the draconian anti-immigrant measures in Arizona and Alabama as an adviser , then said his immigration plan was to force undocumented immigrants to"self-deport." He even endorsed Iowa Rep. Steve King, who suggested building an electric fence at the Mexican border, comparing immigrants to "livestock" and "dogs." Romney's new attempts to appeal to Latino voters are clearly empty - he's already promised the Right that he will use their anti-immigrant rhetoric whenever it's convenient and shut down any reasonable attempts at immigration reform.
If President Obama wins reelection, however, we have a real chance for real immigration reform. He told the Des Moines Register last week that if reelected he will work to achieve immigration reform next year. Beyond incremental steps like his institution of part of the DREAM Act by executive order, real comprehensive immigration reform would finally ease the uncertainty of millions of immigrants and the businesses that hire them. It's something that George W. Bush and John McCain wanted before it was thwarted by extremists in their own party. It's something that Mitt Romney clearly won't even try.
If President Obama wins, and especially when he wins with the help of Latino voters turned off by the GOP's anti-immigrant politics, he will have a strong mandate to create clear and lasting immigration reform. And Republicans will have to think twice before hitching their futures on the politics of demonization and exclusion. Whereas George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Latino vote in 2004 and John McCain 31 percent in 2008, Mitt Romney is polling at just 21 percent among Latinos. That's no coincidence.
My group, People For the American Way, has been working to make sure that the GOP's anti-Latino policies and rhetoric are front and center during the presidential election. We're running a comprehensive campaign aimed at the large Latino populations in Nevada and Colorado and the rapidly growing Latino populations in Iowa, Wisconsin, Virginia, and North Carolina. In each of those states, we're strategically targeting Latino voters with TV and radio ads, direct mail, internet ads and phone banking to make sure they hear the GOP's message about their community. In Colorado, we're going up against Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS , which knows just as well as Romney that the loss of Latino voters "spells doom" for Republicans. In all of these states, higher turnout among Latinos motivated by Mitt Romney's attacks could swing critical electoral votes.
This is a battle where the right thing to do and the politically smart thing to do are one and the same. Republicans have embraced racially-charged attacks against Latinos, pushing English-only laws,attempting to legalize racial profiling by immigration enforcement, dehumanizing immigrants, and even attacking the first Latina Supreme Court justice for talking about her heritage. They deserve to lose the votes of Latinos and others for it. This presidential election is a choice between right-wing scare tactics-- the last resort of those fighting to return to an imaginary America of the past-- and policies that embrace and celebrate our growing Latino population as an integral part of what is the real America.
This week, the White House made public President Obama’s endorsement interview with the Des Moines Register’s editorial board. In the interview, the president is frank about what he thinks could be the deciding factor in this election – the votes of Latinos:
The second thing I’m confident we’ll get done next year is immigration reform. And since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community. And this is a relatively new phenomenon. George Bush and Karl Rove were smart enough to understand the changing nature of America. And so I am fairly confident that they’re going to have a deep interest in getting that done. And I want to get it done because it’s the right thing to do and I've cared about this ever since I ran back in 2008.
The president is right that as the United States’ Latino population has grown in recent years, the GOP has increasingly pushed Latinos aside. While John McCain and George W. Bush both to some extent supported bipartisan efforts at comprehensive immigration reform, Mitt Romney has embraced some of his party’s most extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. He touted the endorsement of Kris Kobach, the man behind draconian anti-immigrant measures in Arizona and Alabama, then took Kobach on as an adviser. He said he would veto the DREAM Act if it were to be passed by Congress. He says his immigration strategy is to make the lives of immigrants so miserable that they are forced to “self-deport.” He endorsed Steve King, the Iowa congressman who has compared immigrants to “cattle” and “dogs.”
Unsurprisingly, Latino voters haven’t been responding well to Romney’s record. Bush won 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2004, and McCain won 31 percent in 2008. Romney is currently polling at 20 -25 percent among Latinos.
Earlier this month People For the American Way launched a 5-week, $1.2 million campaign to remind Latino voters about Mitt Romney’s policies. We’re running TV ads in four states (Ohio, Wisconsin, Virginia and Nevada), radio ads in five (with the addition of North Carolina), and operating a direct mail program. Here are the three of the TV ads that we’ve run so far. English translations are available in the description of each video on YouTube.
UPDATE: On October 29, we expanded the campaign to Colorado.
Here’s a quick recap of the Supreme Court’s decisions during the past week: Unions are now further disadvantaged and despite some important changes to the state’s immigration law, racial profiling remains a viable option for Arizona law enforcement.
On June 21, the Supreme Court issued its decision on Knox v. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1000. The case dealt with a labor policy several states have, known as agency shops, in which employees are not required to become members of the union representing their place of employment, but must pay dues since they benefit from the work the union does. At the point in which all employees working at an establishment that has a union presence are receiving higher wages, more vacation days, and overall better working conditions, it is only fair that all employees pay union dues and not free-ride off of just the union members who pay.
However, in the case of public sector unions, the Supreme Court held a generation ago that non-members have the right to opt out of having their dues used for political activity by the union, effectively weakening the union’s ability to operate on its members’ behalf. In Knox, the Court criticized the balance struck in 1986 and ruled that when the union has a mid-year special assessment or dues increase, it cannot collect any money at all from non-union members unless they affirmatively opt-in (rather than opt-out). This ruling addressed an issue that wasn’t raised by the parties and that the union never had a chance to address, furthering the Right Wing’s goal to hamper a union’s ability to collect dues and make it harder for unions to have a voice in a post-Citizens United political environment. To add insult to injury, Justice Alito let his ideological leanings shine through when he essentially claimed right-to-work laws are good policy.
After the Knox v. SEIU decision, the court released its ruling on the highly contentious 2010 Arizona anti-immigration law, known as S.B. 1070. In a 5-3 decision, the court struck down the majority of the southwestern state’s draconian immigration policy. The court ruled that much of the state’s law unconstitutionally affected areas of law preempted by the federal government, acknowledging the impracticality of each state having its own immigration policy. Oppressive anti-immigrant provisions were struck down, such as one criminalizing the failure to carry proof of citizenship at all times, and a provision making it illegal under state law for an undocumented immigrant to apply for or hold a job. The decision also recognized that merely being eligible for removal is not in itself criminal, and thus the suspicion of being eligible for removal is not sufficient cause for arrest.
Although the majority of S.B. 1070 was overturned by the Supreme Court this week, one component remains, at least for the moment. Officers can still check the immigration status of anyone stopped or arrested if they had “reasonable suspicion” that the individual may be undocumented. This keeps the door wide open for racial profiling. Arresting an individual is not the same as being convicted for a crime. Latinos and other minority groups can be stopped for a crime as simple as jaywalking and “appear” suspicious enough to warrant an immigration background check. By leaving this portion of the law, the US Supreme Court has, for the time being, allowed the potential profiling of thousands of Arizona residents, regardless of whether they are immigrants or US citizens, but has left open the ability to challenge the manner in which this provision is put into practice.