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Photo: Pete Souza

Letter to Obama & Romney from the road to Damascus: Revelations about the undocumented, the DREAM Act & the Latino vote

The political machines behind you, Mitt Romney and you, President Obama, are both currently engaged in a collective clamor to get the percentage of Latino voters you need in order to guarantee victory in November, especially in 12 of the 15 swing states—places like Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Virginia.

For Democrats who support you, Mr. President, Latino over-performance in key states, as in 2010—concurrent high-turnout and wide-margins of support—equal not only your return to the White House, but also the ability to hang onto the slimmest of majorities in the Senate.

Because of the failures and backlash incurred by the Republican 527 group, “Latinos For Reform,” it is unlikely that the Republicans who support you, Mr. Romney, will embrace anything resembling a “Don’t Vote” campaign in this cycle. However, your GOP base are both counting on new and strengthened voter ID laws, as well as changes to early voting and voter registration guidelines, in states like Florida, New Mexico, and Colorado, will make it tougher for President Obama to repeat his 2008 numbers. And surely you, and all those who oppose the President’s reelection, are studying 2000 and 2004 presidential election results closely, in order to determine the specific cross sections of the Latino electorate, with which George W. Bush made gains.

As a Latino voter, I expect to hear an appeal from each of you, as well as the surrogates, pundits, and third-party spokespersons who support you. Regardless of the setting, I expect to be bombarded by social media posts, direct-mail pieces, and talking points, prepared for the 24-hour news cycle, addressing issues like economic growth, healthcare access, job creation, and educational opportunity.

Paying Lip Service to the DREAM Act

Sadly, when it comes to the DREAM Act, and the wider topic of comprehensive immigration reform, I expect similarly hackneyed scripts—sympathetic to the DREAM Act’s military service provisions, in favor of the “best and brightest” from around the world continuing to pursue their educations at America’s universities; against “amnesty,” and for “border security”—followed by a predictable exchange of partisan finger-pointing in a blame game that conveniently ignores the three GOP Senators and eight Republicans in the House of Representatives who supported the DREAM Act in 2010, as well as the five Democratic Senators and 38 Democrats in the House  who opposed it.

Like most Latino voters, I understand the details of comprehensive immigration reform plans promoted during a presidential election year are extremely nuanced. Every word must be focus group tested, turf surveyed, and internally polled. Therefore, since my mother lives on the border of Somis, California -- an unincorporated community populated by commercial farmland -- I won’t be surprised when both of your campaigns begin peppering her with statements of support for an AgJOBS compromise. Please know, however, that while we’re wading through sound bites regarding the “broken immigration system,” what we’re hoping for is any sign that you understand that current policies are unfair, arbitrary, and inhumane.

Mr. Romney, if you were willing to acknowledge the injustices faced by mixed status families, willing to defend the rights and humanity of the undocumented, millions of Latino voters would support you. But thus far, you’ve avoided even acknowledging the decency and potential contribution of undocumented youth like medieval hypochondriacs avoided the bubonic plague.

Despite the fact that ICE deported a record number, 396,906 human beings last year alone, you’ve called for the construction of more border fencing, opposition to “amnesty” for anyone who is undocumented—including DREAM Act-eligible youth—and have expressed such fervent support for anti-immigrant legislation, at all levels of government, that you won the endorsement of leaders in the “immigration crackdown movement,” long before establishing your delegate lead in the race for the GOP nomination. Not only did you call Arizona’s SB 1070 a “model” for the rest of the country in a debate this year, and gave an interview last year supporting its implementation because of the “failure of the federal government to do its job,” Mr. Romney, but on April 20 —despite being urged to soften your tone, and distance yourself from the draconian stances on immigration that defined the Republican Primary — your spokesperson confirmed Arizona SB 1070’s co-author, Kris Kobach, is not only your enthusiastic supporter, but an “informal adviser” to your campaign.

Mr. President, your decision to use the power of the Attorney General’s office to stop states like Arizona, Alabama, and South Carolina from enforcing measures advanced by anti-immigrant legislatures and executives, and your efforts to ease the acquisition of legal status for some, and ameliorate the threat of deportation for others, explain much of the 64% to 24% advantage you hold over Mr. Romney with Latino voters. While 86% of us (82% of US-born, and 90% of foreign-born Latinos) are in favor of providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, we understand that this is in sharp contrast with the American electorate, writ large. One in which only 44% of voters support such a path, and 61% believe Arizona’s SB 1070 should be found Constitutional by the Supreme Court.

Nevertheless, I am morally obligated to chastise your administration for deporting 46,000 parents whose children are citizens of the United States. I say morally obligated, because when I was six years old, my parents were deported. My birth on US soil conferred me with citizenship. But there’s no such thing as an “anchor baby.” Had I not been allowed to travel to Mexico, to remain with my mother and father, I would have gone into the foster care system, just like the 5,100 kids currently trapped in it, because their parents have been detained or deported.

A photo of you sitting alone on a bus recently made headlines, Mr. President. You were caught deep in thought, sitting in a passenger seat, staring out of one of the side windows on the bus, where on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, knowingly chose to disobey an immoral, and unjust law.

Mr. President, today’s immigration laws are such laws.

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The law that separated parents like Felipe Montes and Blanca Cardenas from their children, immoral. The one that threatens to deport America’s undocumented youth, born abroad and brought here as children by parents desperate for a better life, unjust. 287g and “Secure Communities”, as well as NCLB’s requirement that high schools give military recruiters the names and contact information of students, along with the enticement of George W. Bush’s Executive Order to expedite conferring legal status to undocumented immigrants serving in active duty for eight years, during a time when Latinos in active duty have been 20% more likely to die, are immoral.

Separating Children from their Parents

The laws that led to the deportation of the Correa family are unjust. Visa laws preventing Latinos and Asians from participating in the “Green Card lottery,” and mandating that some immigrants (read: European) should wait no more than 3 years before being able to secure legal status for their spouses and/or children, while others (read: Asians and Latin Americans) must wait up to 23 years before being able to do the same, are nothing less than carbon copies of the de jure discrimination policies citizens of color faced before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Today’s immigration laws are so immoral, and unjust, they are responsible for the deaths of Anastasio Hernandez, Nelson Avila, and thousands of other human beings deserving of dignity and opportunity, instead of lives cut short by avoidable tragedies.

Brisenia Flores

Brisenia Flores

Rosa Parks’ arrest in Montgomery, Alabama, led to the riders’ boycott that launched Martin Luther King Jr.’s career. On April 16, 1963, in “Letter from Birmingham Jail” he wrote as follows:

“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here… Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny… We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny.”

Latino population growth accounted for more than half of total US population growth between 2000 and 2010 (15.2 of 27.3 million); growing at a rate of 43% (four times the nation’s 9.7% growth rate). 92% of Latino children are US-citizens. Every month, between now and Election Day, 50,000 Latinos will turn 18. 9.2 million naturalized citizens across the nation are already registered voters.

By November, there will be over 2 million more Latino voters than there were in the last Presidential election. Half will be under 40 years of age. 62% have a friend, neighbor, coworker, or relative who is undocumented; 25% know someone who has faced deportation. 81% believe all Latinos, not just immigrants, face significant discrimination, a belief corroborated by the National Institute of Justice, Southern Poverty Law Center, and FBI data, demonstrating disproportionate growth in anti-Latino hate crimes and hate groups.

Juan Varela was shot in his front yard, in front of his mother and brother, by a man yelling, “Go back to Mexico or die!” The Varelas have been citizens of the United States for five generations.

Shawna Forde and two suspected accomplices woke up Brisenia Flores’ family and told them they were law enforcement officers. When her father questioned the intruders, they stormed into the house and shot him. They shot her mother. And then they shot her, twice, at point-blank range. Brisenia was murdered by Minuteman border vigilantes, despite the fact that she was a US-citizen; despite the fact that she was nine years old.

Mr. President, Mr. Romney, abused and scorned through we may be, Latinos—one out of every six Americans, one out of every four American children—are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny with America. Our patriotic contributions seen in every aspect of American history and quotidian life, we have always embraced not only the American dream, but also the burden of rebuilding it whenever, and wherever, it is denied. The next time you pledge allegiance to the flag that stands for liberty and justice for all, remember this letter.

unai montes-irueste

Our well-being is even more important than our vote. And because the goal of America is freedom, I ask you to stand for ours.

Unai Montes-Irueste

Posted: Monday, 23 April 2012