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Time for Amnesty

Latinos and the 2012 Elections

by ALVARO HUERTA

President Barack Obama owes Latinos big-time for his 2012 re-election victory. According to the polling group Latino Decisions, Obama received an overwhelming 75 percent of the Latino vote. Representing 10 percent of the electorate, Latinos played a pivotal role in Obama’s victory over former Governor Mitt Romney, particularly in key swing states, such as Nevada, Florida, New Mexico, Virginia and Colorado.

While Obama enjoyed the majority of Latino votes, including those of Asian Americans, African Americans, gays, unmarried women and young people, let’s not forget that the president failed to deliver for Latinos during most of his first term in the area of immigration—an important issue to many Latinos (and Asians). Instead of supporting policies in defense of this growing voting and demographic group, in his first term, Obama has deported more undocumented immigrants compared to his predecessor, George W. Bush, during the same time frame. For instance, according to The Washington Post, as of July of 2012, Obama’s administration deported over 1.4 million undocumented immigrants.

In addition to deporting undocumented immigrants and separating families at a faster rate than Bush, Obama also failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform—an early promise he never kept—even when Democrats dominated both the Senate and House of Representatives for a short period. Also, unlike other important issues, such as health care and gay rights, Obama invested little or no political capital to pass the DREAM Act—the bill aimed at providing eligible young immigrants with a pathway to citizenship.

Moreover, Obama appears satisfied with two draconian, federal policies targeting mostly undocumented Latino immigrants: E-Verify and 287(g). While E-Verify—a voluntary federal program—allows for employers to verify the legal status of their employees utilizing hiring documents (the I-9 form) and government records, 287(g)—also a voluntary federal program—allows for state and local police authorities to operate as surrogates of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers by documenting and turning over suspected undocumented immigrants to federal authorities for possible deportation proceedings. While praised by many national leaders, political pundits and elective officials—both Republicans and Democrats—these flawed programs instill a deep sense of fear and anxiety among the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country.

Instead of attacking President Obama on these harsh and punitive measures, whereby eroding his support among Latinos, Romney and the GOP not only double-downed on these mostly-enforcement policies, but also went the extra mile to further target and vilify Latino immigrants at the local, state and federal level. While Romney praised Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, SB 1070, as a model for the entire country to follow, he also made his (in)famous remark about undocumented immigrants and “self-deportation” as part of his grand immigration plan.

Taking advantage of Romney’s and the GOP’s gross missteps on immigration and Latino communities, Obama smartly introduced an executive order to provide short-term relief to eligible undocumented youth against deportation proceedings. Referred to as “deferred action,” eligible youth who apply will be granted legal protection to reside in the U.S. for a short period and allowed to work without a pathway to citizenship. While Obama clearly pandered to Latino voters for this much needed relief prior to election day, this program also has negative aspects for the young applicants, since the government will now have a huge database of their personal information, making them more vulnerable in the near future due to unforeseen consequences.

Now that the presidential election has concluded and national discussions of comprehensive immigration reform have become a priority for Republicans and Democrats, especially given the importance of the Latino vote in future elections, it’s imperative for both parties to incorporate a pathway to citizenship as a central theme of any proposed legislation. If “comprehensive immigration reform” only means additional enforcement measures, such as more funding for high-tech border fences, enforcement officials and work-site deportations, then we might as well tolerate the status quo.

Instead of making life more difficult for those who take care of our children, clean our homes (like my late mother), wash our cars and mow our front lawns, we, as a nation, should respect and treat the millions of immigrants who work and live in America’s shadows as human beings. Thus, we should not punish them like common criminals, but reward them for their hard work ethics, daily sacrifices and contributions to America’s prosperity with a simple and humane plan: amnesty.

Alvaro Huerta, Ph.D., is a Visiting Scholar at UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center. He can be reached at: ahuerta@berkeley.edu.