Over six years have passed since Barack Obama was elected President of the United States with 67 percent of Latino voters behind him. In 2012, he secured his re-election with 71 percent of Latino voters on his side. For many Latino voters, their support rode in to ballot boxes based on the President’s promise to finally fix the broken immigration system he inherited. While the President authored the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals memorandum two years ago granting legal status to many of our nation’s Dreamers, one alarming statistic today rings louder than any other in our community — Obama’s Administration has deported almost two million people, mostly Latinos.
The skyrocketing deportation rate is crippling society in irreparable ways and has seriously increased the vulnerability of Latino workers. Deportations impact our economy — limiting total wages, decreasing tax revenue, and disrupting the workforce of small and large businesses. It destabilizes growing communities stripped of their leaders, consumers, and neighbors. It tears families apart and makes it difficult for youth to succeed without a stable family structure.
For these reasons and more, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, the coalition of 37 preeminent national Latino organizations that I chair, released a new report titled, “Detention, Deportation, and Devastation: The Disproportionate Effect of Deportations on the Latino Community.” The report released in conjunction with MALDEF (the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) assesses the record-breaking deportation rate of the last six years, its devastating impact on vulnerable Latino families and upon the larger national Latino community, and the path forward to a fair and just immigration policy. What the report makes clear is that deportations disproportionately impact Latinos, as almost 97 percent of all deportees in 2013 were of Latino descent.
When it comes to the lack of action on immigration reform, a serious blame game is underway. Some blame the President, others blame Congress. Some blame the Department of Homeland Security’s political leaders for needing to do more to ensure that enforcement policies are administered more humanely (which Secretary Jeh Johnson is reportedly exploring). Others blame career staff that may have “burrowed in“ from political jobs serving the Bush Administration into permanent career positions at federal departments where they still have a say when it comes to implementing — or blocking — policies and programs.
Either way, when it comes to this blame game, enough is enough. Real people’s lives are at stake. Two million fathers, daughters, mothers, and sons that believed America had a place for them — and their countless loved ones (many of whom are U.S. citizens) — are living in the midst of torn families. All parties need to accept responsibility, be courageous, and act. Deportations exacerbate poverty, unemployment and single parent households increasing economic uncertainty. As the report points out, over 5.5 million children have a parent who is undocumented, and 4.5 million of these children are U.S. citizens. Deportation policies contribute to the existence of an entire cadre of Latino children that are parentless and mired in poverty.
While the President shares responsibility on deportations, so does Congress. That’s why our coalition’s “Latinos United for Immigration Reform“ campaign is also announcing a strategic effort to target 30 Republican Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including members of House leadership, to support and vote on a fair and just immigration reform bill this year. While the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill last year, the U.S. House of Representatives has yet to act on fixing our broken immigration system. In the past year, NHLA held over 62 townhalls in 39 congressional districts, and our membership helped bring in 15,000 postcards reaching 96 percent of Congress. Our groups will be even more surgical in the months to come engaging in in-district townhalls, meetings, communication strategies and digital engagement efforts so that House leaders and members representing districts with significant Latino eligible voters understand that their constituents DO want reform.
While Speaker John Boehner recently flooded headlines for saying Congress should act on immigration reform this year, he also raised the same point in November of 2012 saying, “This issue has been around far too long… and while I believe it’s important for us to secure our borders and to enforce our laws, I think a comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I’m confident that the president, myself, others, can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all.”
I urge Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Republican Policy Committee Chairman James Lankford to find common ground amongst their Republican colleagues to finally bring forward a bill. At a time when both Parties should be fighting for the Latino vote, Members of Congress need to remember that they are accountable to all voters, including those of Latino descent.
There are enough votes in the House to pass an immigration reform bill, the Senate has passed their version of reform, and the President is ready to sign a bill. It’s time for the House to bring forward a vote on a bill that will meaningfully help fix our broken immigration system — and, in the meantime, the President can and must do more.
The administration must take clear and concrete steps to address the humanitarian crisis resulting from its uneven and blunt enforcement of immigration policy. President Obama has the authority to halt deportations using various forms of prosecutorial discretion and has the authority to expand affirmative relief. Until then, the Latino community will continue to disproportionately suffer the consequences of a dysfunctional and unjust immigration system.
The plan underway right now — of doing nothing and playing the blame game — is simply unacceptable.