The Need for A Critical Analysis For Immigration Reform
By Arnoldo S. Torres with National Institute of Latino Policy
This is an analysis of the immigration debate and the responsibility Latinos must examine on the strategy and tactics applied and the corresponding consequences of these actions.
Now that DACA and the President’s immigration enforcement package have been placed on hold by Congress and the courts, all parties have some time to try and work out a short-term or long-term compromise. Latino and DACA “leaders” must step back and consider the strategy they have been following, its pros and what I believe are many cons. It is an arduous task they have taken on, and I respect and admire the determination, emotion, and commitment they have demonstrated to date.
However, the strategy they have been following has had little success on the bottom line, while having severe consequences. It’s great to be mentioned by Hollywood actors at the 90th Oscar Awards, but that does not provide the relief and fairness being sought and earned by hardworking people whose motivations are no different than those who migrated to the U.S. at the turn of the 19th century.
Over the last 17 years, Latinos have seen how fear and anger has manifested itself towards our U.S.-born and immigrant communities. Despite all who suffered (including many immigrants from many parts of the world) from the horrific and permanent scars caused by the attacks on September 11, 2001, we began to experience the unprecedented damage to our national psyche and identification. The door of anti-immigrant sentiment had been nudged open.
With the beginning of the presidential campaign in 2015, the door came off the hinges. We have been experiencing a level of intolerance, scapegoating, ignorance, nationalist xenophobia and racism most had not seen or felt before. Those of us who remember that these attitudes and behavior have long been a part of our history in this nation also remember the ugly experiences of our parents and grandparents. I cannot help but believe that fixing that damn door may not be possible after what we have been through the last seven years.
Latinos need to accept the reality that we have a fair share of responsibility for what has happened to us in this immigration dynamic. The perspective and analysis I offer do not come at an easy time nor will it be well received by many. However, I ask that you look beyond the political correctness lens that will surely be applied.
Some will say how dare I question what Latino advocates on immigration have been doing. I would respond how dare there is no dialogue or transparency of what has been going on for years with no tangible results! It is essential and imperative that all so-called “movements del pueblo, of conscious” have a critical analysis of their strategy, tactics, plans, and results.
It was Latino “Dreamers” who accepted the political argument and strategy that said, “These kids are not to blame for the actions of their parents who brought them to the U.S. illegally.” This political argument should never have been made, and the political strategy never followed. But liberal left and “progressive” foundations began to fund immigrant rights groups during the Obama years, and this was the argument and strategy followed to a tee. Democratic leaders went right along.
“Dreamers” were portrayed as being “Americans” who have and would contribute significantly to the nation because they were educated, had or were willing to serve in the military and their faces and pictures made for excellent optics. It was clear that the strategist behind this approach believed that these pictures and young faces would be hard to condemn. Another clear element in this self-defeating strategy was the confident feeling that Hilary would take care of all remaining undocumented family members.
This line of argument and thinking was dishonorable and unfair to the parent generation in the U.S. Parents who entered the US without papers did not do so to hurt their children. Their parents were seeking what parents all over the world want, economic survival and opportunity for their family. The parent generation of the “Dreamers,” like their parents before them, were recruited and encouraged to come to the U.S. by specific industries. Over time these industries became dependent on and preferred these immigrant workers over U.S.-born workers. In other words, Mexicans were not the cause of any displacement, the economic market and U.S.-born workers work ethic changed. This process formally and informally began during the first World War because of labor shortages.
These generations of undocumented immigrants have made exceptional contributions to this nation up until this very time in our history. They have labored hard in whatever jobs they secured, they have paid taxes, made sure their children did well in school so one day they would meet the criteria for the DACA program, they purchased homes, started small and medium businesses, took jobs that paid little and offered little protection or benefits but were indispensable to our economy, and seldom complained!
Shame on the Republicans who have portrayed these generations of hard-working people as welfare dependents, criminals, drug smugglers, or “not the best.” Shame on Democrats for speaking out of both sides of their mouths while playing politics with the desperation of vulnerable people, and hubris and inexperience of youth that found a voice. Shame on the liberal foundations and the Frank Sharrys (America’s Voice) in this network who were fighting other battles besides the one that was facing good people.
This unprecedented investment in the immigrant community has undoubtedly raised the profile of DACA recipients, helped fund the building of capacity and infrastructure of immigrant community advocacy groups. They indeed developed and gave voice to the individuals who became DACA leaders. However, these liberal/progressive institutions and their public faces contributed significantly to the strategy, talking points, and tactics that put exclusive focus and political capital on DACA recipients. DACA has pushed aside all the other immigration policy, domestic and international issues confronting the large Latino family that exists in the U.S.
I do not doubt that there is good faith and that there are many individuals on the left that are well motivated and committed. However, there should be no doubt that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” This side of the political spectrum has a clear pattern of telling us what is in minorities’ best interest and how to get there. They may not see it as clearly as many of us have over decades, but do not doubt its existence, prevalence, and negative consequences.
The challenge Latinos and Dreamers must overcome is the inclination to place critical issues before us in only a political context. We seriously ignore the role policy has in deciding the future and moving the needle. I am not naïve enough to maintain that perfection should be the enemy of good, but I certainly hope I will not hear perfection should not be our motivation. Politics is not the engine that drives all things and cannot replace sound policy proposals that are opposed because they do not satisfy our bias or ignorance. Bad public policy makes for bad politics and presents intended and unintended consequences for the future. It is a dangerous habit to break, as evidenced by what Congress has been doing for far too long.