Arnoldo Torres: Latino Leaders Must Do Better!

Op-Ed To California Ag Today

Latinos Need a Bigger Voice

By Arnold Torres

In this last round of elections, Democrats ignored the ugly and nationalistic demagoguery of immigrants from Central America that the 45th President pursued relentlessly before Election Day. They allowed the President to continue building a false narrative around immigration. In spite of many Republicans supporting some of the most offensive and verbal racial profiling by a sitting President, our Democratic response was, “vote for me, I am not Republican.”

This President was not only focused on mid-term elections but laying the foundation for his 2020 re-election. He spared no lie to whip up his base.

We heard no substance from Democrats except outrage and sharp criticism of Republicans. Liberal groups like the Center for American Progress and the Third Way noted that running on immigration would not be helpful in securing votes in states and Congressional districts won by the President in 2016. Democrats seemed paralyzed with political fear that they could not capitalize on the anger and growing rejection of Trumpism if they addressed the immigration issue.latinos

Democrats aggressively postured when Republicans followed their script of scapegoating and demagoguing immigrants. They hid behind their words of outrage, old proposals about legalizing Dreamers and no border wall and “abolishing” ICE. They offered no new vision for re-calibrating the policies and discussions that were needed to effectively and honestly deal with the pressures of desperate mass movements of people.

Democrats allowed this President to continue reinforcing a false, ignorant, and racist nationalism about Latino immigrants. The so-called “caravan of invaders” is being “pushed” from sending countries for the same reasons that pushed the ships that sailed with many European refugees/migrants that arrived on U.S. shores in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Latino “leaders” in the national immigration struggle and Latino elected officials in Congress have contributed mightily to the behavior of both parties. It really makes more sense if these Latino “leaders” would stop demanding specific action that has not come about even under President Obama. We must offer viable and balanced policies. The mass movement of people is originating in this hemisphere, and so it MUST fall to us to develop solutions, not ideology.

Due to the inaction of both parties, our community must develop the political agenda for immigration reform that will benefit our nation. Our vision must be specific and comprehensive. The narrative must be honest, factual, balanced and practical and we must begin working with various members of the California Congressional delegation from agricultural producing districts, such as ours. The Trump narrative does nothing more than to pollute the disposition of the U.S. public to push for effective and balanced immigration reform.

There is public support for reasonable reform; the Trump narrative has created a caustic image of immigrants that has become the default position of his base, which is infecting others. The time to act is now. We must realistically address the labor shortages in the agricultural and service industries in California and their dependency on unauthorized labor. We have to frame the issue in economic terms since humanitarian concerns clearly have not been enough.

Our policy outline must offer a constructive and practical new vision. It must include smart enforcement at ports of entry, increased resources for the Coast Guard, increased resources for detection of opioid trafficking from China and India via the internet, and increased resources for local law enforcement in cities located along drug corridors in the U.S. only for enforcement activities related to drug interdiction. Our immigration reform package must include enforcement of existing immigration laws. The GOP narrative is that Democrats are for open borders. Our new agenda must address the issue that drugs from Mexico significantly enter through ports of entry and via the internet from countries outside the hemisphere.

Our agenda must utilize evaluation analyses and propose no private sector detention centers—a vigorous oversight—and accountability mechanism outside of the Department of Homeland Security of these centers and ICE, Border Patrol agents, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.

Enforcement must be balanced with permanent legal status for all “Dreamers” who meet the original criteria, temporary legal status for the parents of “Dreamers” who have a history of employment, especially in states that had labor shortages in agriculture, construction, and service sectors. We have to include a pilot temporary worker program with Mexico in U.S. states that have documented labor shortages in the above industries to begin to test new ideas. All federal and state labor laws would apply to these workers along with an increase in funding to monitor their treatment, working and living conditions, and employer compliance.

A critical component that we must explore is the creation of working groups between the U.S. and essential sending countries such as Mexico and those in Central America to discuss how to create a stable economic and security environment in their countries and specific regions that are the source of population movements to the U.S. We must not repeat the mistakes our economic and political policies have committed in these countries that are the foundation of the “push” factors, while not losing sight of the “pull” factors that exist within the U.S. serving as magnets for undocumented workers.

Lastly, we must evaluate and provide for a phased-in mechanism of these policy initiatives and include a legalization process, for the undocumented persons currently in the U.S., in the last phase of this process.

We know that Congressman Panetta and his colleagues from the Central Valley have acknowledged the ugly narrative but have taken no decisive action to date. It is important to note that two of his colleagues lost re-election. Was their loss due in part to the failure to move concretely on immigration, especially in the agricultural sector? It is essential that there be transparency around what Mr. Panetta and the Democrat majority in the House of Representatives will do to begin resolving the growing complexities around immigration. Let’s begin our discussion with a town hall meeting to take place in Salinas that allows an open dialogue concerning our proposal and what our new Congress intends to do.

Arnoldo S. Torres is a journalist, consultant, partner in the Sacramento, California based public policy consulting firm Torres & Torres, and the executive director for the California Hispanic Health Care Association.

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A Different Perspective on the Immigration Controversy

Mexico Has a Responsibility Regarding Immigration, Expert Says

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor

With immigration becoming a hot-button issue within the political arena, those in agriculture have a deeper insight into this controversial topic. Arnoldo Torres, of the National Institute for Latino Policies out of Sacramento and partner with the public policy consulting firm Torres & Torres, has long been a leading voice for immigration within the ag sector—while realizing both countries (America and Mexico) need to do their part.

immigration reform
Arnoldo Torres

“Mexico has a responsibility to its people. The Central American countries have a responsibility. We’ve got to make sure that those countries are doing what they have to do to keep people from having to go elsewhere to make a living and to live,” Torres explained.

He knows this from personal experience, when his grandfather made a move to America from Mexico, with no opportunity to go back.

“They realized that if they had gone back, there was never going to be a life for them back home,” he said.

Torres further added that the desire for immigrant workers purely correlates with their unique work ethic.

“There’s that saying that necessity is the mother of invention. Well, necessity is the mother of work. I mean, we work to address a necessity.”

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Immigration Policy: Focus, Initiate and Stop Reacting

Opinion/Editorial

By Arnoldo S. Torres with the National Institute for Latino Policy

I want to focus on the imperative of altering the narrative set by this president and his supporters and proposing policies that are comprehensive, inclusive, and responsive to the needs of the nation.  Regardless of any success or failure this year to pass any elements of immigration reform, I cannot underscore enough the urgency and importance for altering the false narrative.

Simultaneously it is imperative that Latinos prepare an immigration reform alternative that allows the public and policymakers to recognize a policy path that can be more effective and humane while protecting our border and internal security. We must not be ethnocentric but rather defy xenophobic nationalism, avoid isolation—not advocate an “open border” but be realistic, balanced, practical, and fair.

Politics have long reigned over policy on the reform of U.S. immigration law. This president’s actions and words over the last month cannot be better examples of this ugly and dangerous reality. In the past three weeks, the President ratcheted up his rhetoric on immigration at his Michigan rally.  We also saw and heard in Michigan and before military audiences that despite there being more than 100 million Americans who can trace their history to Ellis Island, there are far too many who today stand in support of the very sentiments and “know-nothing” values that would have denied their ancestors entry to this nation. The words of fear, anger, and demagoguery sound so similar to what was said in the early 19th century when we experienced the most significant movement of immigrants to this nation from Europe.

Up to now, immigration advocates and Latino elected have responded in kind, defensively and with emotion. The liberal groups funding immigrant rights groups seem more interested in media coverage than creating a strategy that can overcome the political extremism that has evolved in the nation.

False Narratives

The false narrative around the causes and consequences of immigration has a clear intent: repeat it enough times that the public comes to believe that undocumented immigrants are criminals involved in trafficking drugs, who threaten the national security of this nation, advocate for open borders, do not reflect the “best” of their countries of origin, and live in sanctuary cities that are “breeding grounds” for criminals. This must change. It dictates and corrupts the substance and policy path for solutions.

Those advancing this image select anecdotal examples to bolster their mean, racist and xenophobic values. This president does this virtually every time he speaks to his base. Despite his demagoguery comments in Michigan and his threat to close down the federal government if he does not get funding for his border wall, even substantial numbers of evangelicals continue to support an agnostic, at best, in the name of the Lord!

Latinos, immigrant advocates, and liberal foundations spend most of their time responding and reacting, not initiating. This has always placed us in a defensive position while allowing false narratives to be circulated and take hold in the public’s mind and with policymakers.

Many who support these claims fail to come to terms with the facts that immigrants—legal, undocumented and refugees—at the turn of the century were engaged in organized crime in Jewish, Italian, Irish, and English immigrant communities.  Many immigrants that came to the Island of Hope came from countries that fought against the U.S. in World War I and II.

In response to the constant hateful words, bully tactics and persecuting policies on immigration, we have allowed this behavior to infect our judgment.  We have failed to recognize that all immigrants are not Jesus-like—we are human! We have imperfections, and many will do bad things that cause intended and unintended consequences to others.  When these things have happened, we have not condemned such actions, we have, at best, ignored them for fear that we are giving into this narrative.  In failing to denounce such acts we have contributed and strengthened this narrative.

Similarities of Yesterday and Today’s Immigrants

We must remind this nation that today’s immigrants and refugees have much in common with those at the turn of the century. Some efforts have been made to emphasize these points, but they are primarily secondary arguments in the national media.

Latino voices on this issue spend most of their time defending their concerns and aspirations for legalization by engaging in campaigns of embarrassing Republican and some Democrat elected officials. While many deserve it, this is a losing tactic which in most situations has merely served to satisfy the expectations and stereotypes applied to Latinos.

Immigrants yesterday and today have experienced many of the same “push factors” that caused them to make this most difficult journey. They arrive today for the same reasons some 12 million entered between 1892 and 1954. As an Italian immigrant is credited with saying, “If America did not exist, we would have had to invent it for the sake of our survival.” We share the same experiences of living in countries of origin that serve as a police state, suppress economic opportunities, deny education, and ignore the concepts of a democratic society. Contrary to the statements of immigration nationalists, people do not decide to journey to this nation because they want to be Democrats or Republicans. Freedom is what all seek!

Yesterday’s immigrants primarily came via boats in steerage class that government reports described as, “The unattended vomit of the seasick, the odors of the not-too-clean bodies, the reek of food, the awful stench of the nearby toilet rooms make the atmosphere in steerage such that it is a marvel that human flesh can endure it.”

Today’s immigrants must walk through deserts, hostile countries, risk life and limb on trains, pay thousands of dollars up-front and after they enter—if they enter—the U.S. They are profit centers for organized smuggling rings and transportation for illegal drugs. Many perish on this path because they are easily exploited and manipulated.

The descendants of past immigrants sit in harsh judgment of those fleeing the same situations their forefathers were fortunate to leave. They argue that their ancestors are different from today’s immigrants which is an ignorance ripe for the type of exploitation that has been growing since the 1980s and only getting worse with time. There is no better example of this ignorance and hovering xenophobic nationalism than the comment made by White House Chief of Staff and former General John Kelly, who stated that the majority of immigrants are “… not people that would easily assimilate into the U.S. … They don’t speak English … They don’t integrate well, they don’t have skills.”  This is almost precisely the very words used to describe the immigrants that came from Ireland, and all of Europe.

There are NO immigrant groups in this nation that have a perfect profile and behavior regardless of when they entered!

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Latinos’ Responsibility on Immigration Reform

Commentary on Latinos and Immigration Reform – 2 of 4 Parts

Latinos Have a Unique Challenge 

By Arnoldo S. Torres with the National Institute for Latino Policy

 We have a unique challenge as Latinos. We must provide a path to solving this public policy puzzle of immigration reform while avoiding the ugly attitudes and behavior that are rampant today. We must undertake a critical assessment of our tactics, strategies, activities, and words we use because words are essential not only on one side but all.

This self-critique is hard to undertake; it’s always easier to point the finger. Latinos have played a key role in not achieving what we say we seek: a practical, humane, efficient and fair immigration reform.  There are aspects of this long and ugly road traveled that we must understand (from more than one point of view and experiences), discuss, dissect and correct if we are to bring about what we say we seek.

How I Learned About Immigration

My perspectives, ideas, and vision for humane, practical, fair and just immigration policy for this nation began to be developed 39 years ago in 1979.  I had the honor of serving as the legislative director for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in Washington, D.C. I had the privilege of working with a group of people from other nationally known organizations on the recommendations of the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy (SCIRP) for comprehensively reforming U.S. immigration policy. Law created the Commission in 1978, making it bi-partisan, and included four public members representing labor unions, local and state government, and the judicial branch.

It could not have been created nor efficiently functioning today because there is a dangerous lack of courage and leadership in Congress on both sides of the aisle. It appears, by their statements and actions, that the majority of Congressional members are incredibly ignorant of the dynamics surrounding U.S. immigration policy, the “push” and “pull” factors that cause people to take phenomenal risks. They have intentionally failed to read and comprehend the history of these factors that virtually color all immigrants to the U.S. with the same desperation, survival instincts, desires, and dreams.

These members have not elevated the tone of the emotionally-charged rhetoric or imagery, but intentionally over-simplified the complexities and motives of immigration movements. There are too many “aggrieved parties” who lack the desire to solve problems facing the nation unless they can satisfy the growing ideology and political silos on the right AND left! They follow a very narrow and faulty narrative on immigration.

immigration reform
Arnoldo Torres

I learned first-hand the many facets, difficult choices, and responsibilities associated with the realities surrounding immigration policy many years before my experience in D.C.  I began working in the tomato fields of California agriculture at the age of ten. It was not a summer outing but a necessity. I had the responsibility of having to pay for my school clothes for the year, which was referred to as “la cosa Christiana” as my grandfather put it.  My mother and uncles began work at an earlier age in Texas, younger than ten years old, while going to school.

Beginning at five years old, and every other year after until I was 28, I would visit relatives in Ciudad Delicias, Chihuahua, Mexico. I came to recognize early the sacrifices my grandfather made to cross the border at the age of 12 to work as a water boy on the railroads of Texas. At 17, he was able to bring his mother, brother, and sister to the U.S. Two generations of my family experienced a great deal of discrimination before I began to see and feel it when I was very young.

Political Parties and Media

Elected officials, from both political colors, express their concerns about the immigration polemic, defending or attacking one another, insisting that their positions are true and pure. Posturing for their ideological fan base is primary while facts and knowledge play a secondary role.  There is a prevalent attitude of “don’t confuse me with the facts” because my base only wants “red meat” regardless of its quality. Both parties have made this issue so toxic by having it be more about politics than about policy, fairness and economic reality.

At such a crucial time for Latinos and the nation, we have two ill-prepared political parties who cannot rise to the challenge of what the world sees is the demise of the shining country on the hill. Liberals believe Democrats are better for us, but that is because Republicans care so little about us.

Making a significant contribution to this dynamic has been a President that began his campaign by revving up the deepest-seeded xenophobic characteristics of American nationalism. He has made it so much easier for this ugly side of nationalism to be manifested in the style of a Tucker Carlson show or commentary by the mean and hypocritical Ann Coulter or Laura Ingraham—all in the name of Making America Great Again.

Fox News churns out the type of stereotypes Hollywood used decades ago and even to this day about Latinos; they ignore facts and make sure that the Latino immigrant profile never deviates from the criminal, drug dealer, and threat to U.S. security and motherhood. The very people whose history in this nation includes organized crime, criminals in their countries of origin, and enemies against the U.S. in TWO world wars now sit in harsh judgment of us.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have Jorge Ramos of Univision forgetting that he is the journalist but behaves like a one-dimensional advocate. He is well intended and has become the darling of the political left in journalism.

You want a Latino to talk about immigration; the English media selects Jorge, who provides no real insight but ticks off the usual talking points.  Then we have CNN, whose hosts and panels/guests discussing immigration are primarily non-immigrants and non-Latinos. The guests representing the left and the right say all the typical things but in a very chaotic format. They exhibit such intolerance for one another that it turns off the viewer and furthers the divide and ignorance.

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Congress Fails At Immigration Reform

Editor’s Note: This is an op-ed from Arnold Torres. Torres comments favorably on Manual Cunha’s recent op-ed regarding the failing US Congress on Immigration Reform.
You can see Cunha’s Opinion piece here: https://californiaagtoday.com/congress-fails-on-agricultural-workers/

Congressional Failure on Agriculture Requires Deliberate and Decisive Democracy

By Arnoldo Torres

Farmworkers in California agriculture have always been hard working and very productive. This has been the history of the Mexican farmworker since World War I and II, when they were brought in to compensate for the labor shortage. Regardless of immigration status, this undocumented workforce has contributed mightily (and beyond any dispute) to the phenomenal production and riches California agriculture has come to be known for throughout the world.

Arnoldo Torres

Manuel Cunha, Jr., the President of the Nisei Farmers League expressed, with eloquence, this reality of “our agricultural workers” in his letter to California Agriculture Today on December 15, 2017. He points out how these workers pay taxes, (state, federal income and sales), into the social security fund and serve as the “backbone” of the state’s $50 billion-dollar agriculture industry. He is also on target when he speaks of how Congress has failed agricultural workers not only in our state but throughout the nation.

Mr. Cunha’s should be joined by all in the agricultural industry of California. While we see signs throughout the Central Valley clamoring for more water and criticizing Governor Brown for his policy on water, we do not see any signs calling for immigration reform that recognize s the contributions of farmworkers. The agricultural industry needs to stand up and state the obvious — without water AND a qualified workforce, agriculture will crumble.

The failure of Congress on agricultural workers has been a constant for many decades now. This failure has already had serious and structural repercussions for California ag. Republicans and Democrats in Congress who represent the Valley – who are either married to Latinas, own dairies, are part of “chain migration” of Portuguese families operating businesses dependent on Mexican farm workers, who have several Mexicans as their “best friends,” represent districts with high concentration of Latinos, etc. – have been irresponsible.

The Majority Leader of the US House is from the Central Valley and others from this region are key members of the majority party. How is it that they have not been able to move any legislation on this MOST important issue? I firmly believe they have been reluctant to do what is necessary to move the needle forward on this issue.

These politicians have all made their convenient and annual statements of respecting the work ethic of farm workers and their economic contributions. All have spoken about the urgency and importance of resolving the status of DACA individuals but have not even made the serious and concrete attempt to include their parents and the adults who have been harvesting their businesses for decades and generations.

Democracy works best when the people take decisive and deliberate action. It is time that voters of the central valley take deliberate and decisive action and replace these incumbents regardless of party. Until they are held accountable in this manner farm workers, the ag economy and real people will suffer consequences that will not be able to be corrected anytime soon.

Arnoldo S. Torres of Torres2 Policy Consultants works on policy issues impacting the Latino community and has worked on the immigration issue for more than 30 years having testified on the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1985 extensively before both chambers of Congress. 

 

 

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