By Alan Bean
Viviana Hurtado learned about immigration issues while working as a journalist in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. She understands the desperation that drives men and women across the River and how tenuous the existence of the undocumented can be. She understands that many extended families contain both the documented and the undocumented. President Obama’s delay in pushing for meaningful immigration reform means that “many of the estimated 12 million people who live and contribute millions of dollar to the economy will continue to live in fear that at any moment, La migra may pick up and deport a mom or dad, often times of a U.S. citizen”. During my recent trip to “the Valley” I was disturbed by the militarization of the area (I can’t think of a better word). There was a time when Mexican citizens entered the United States on a seasonal basis, worked a few months in the fields, then headed back to Mexico. Or they might live on the Mexican side of the border and work as a maid in a Texas border town. That doesn’t happen anymore. Once you are in the country, you stay in the country, even if that means being confined to virtual house arrest while documented members of the family venture out of the home to buy groceries. If your child is picked up by La Migra and transferred to a county jail, you aren’t able to visit; you can’t leave the Rio Grande Valley without passing through the checkpoints that are located within 100 miles of the border on every highway. Between 1994 and 2008, the overall number of individuals detained i the United States each year swelled from approximately 81,000 to around 380,000. Thanks to the federal Secure Communities program that has spread to virtually every part of the United States, local law enforcement must put an “Ice Hold” on every person they detain if there is any chance they might be illegal. At least 400,000 people are deported from the United States every year.
With these policies in place, it is hardly surprising that as many people now cross the border from the United States to Mexico as enter the US from the South. When I hear critics of the Obama administration insisting that the federal government “get serious” about border security, I wonder what they are talking about. The President is desperate to prove that he can be as punitive as any Tea Party Republican on the immigration issue; he certainly puts the relatively balanced policies of his predecessor to shame.
Mike Seifert, head of the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, took me for a guided tour of the border fence. “What do people who don’t live here need to know about the life experience of the undocumented?” I asked. Mike thought a moment. “To tell the story of the world people live in down here,” he said at last, “you would need to invent a new vocabulary.” Most of us would admit that no border would stop us from giving our children a better life. But we see the undocumented as problems, not people. We don’t identify with their pain. We think, incorrectly, that they are taking our jobs. We think they are looking for handouts. They aren’t. Most work incredibly hard at jobs we don’t want to do and, collectively, end up paying far more in taxes than they receive in welfare and social services. What will it take to soften our hearts? What will Mr. Seifert’s “new vocabulary” sound like? I don’t know, but I’m working on it.
By Viviana Hurtado, Fox News Latino
President Barack Obama’s coming out in support of same-sex marriage has left me wondering when Mr. Obama will finally wager serious political capital to overhaul our immigration system.
His announcement came days after the White House Cinco de Mayo celebration, which I attended. The president knows how to play to an audience: he stood before us, affirming his support for comprehensive immigration reform, rewarded with chants of sí se puede–Yes We Can! When he challenged congressional Republicans to approve and send him a DREAM Act to sign into law that legalizes and puts college and military-bound undocumented immigrant students on a path to citizenship, applause mixed with cries of “4 More Years!” You can read more about my White House Cinco de Mayo experience here.
Obama said that one of the reasons for this political “evolution” is not wanting to explain to his daughters that some Americans aren’t afforded the same legal protections as others. Yet, how does he explain to Sasha and Malia that days after his Cinco pledge of support for immigration reform, he won’t follow it up with a big gesture such as a one-on-one broadcast television interview that sets the news cycle on fire? How is he going to tell his daughters that we’re in year four since candidate Obama promised immigration reform and that this continued delay means many of the estimated 12 million people who live and contribute millions of dollar to the economy will continue to live in fear that at any moment, La migra may pick up and deport a mom or dad, often times of a U.S. citizen?
I witnessed how tricky immigration reform is early on in my career as a journalist in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley–one of the poorest regions in the country with a population that is 90 percent Hispanic. Undocumented immigrant labor fills an insatiable need of otherwise law-abiding American citizens: farmers need their crops picked, families need their houses built, restaurants owners must feed hungry workers, and working moms need their homes cleaned. Yet I also observed school systems and emergency rooms crushed by waves of undocumented immigrants needing services. Left to fend for themselves, communities have demanded more help from the federal government that promised it, but mañana-reform will be addressed tomorrow because of today’s gridlock in Washington.
It is within this context that the restrictive immigration laws in Arizona and Alabama are born. But a state-by-state approach to reform smacks more of, on one hand of racism and nativism or on the other, tolerance than an economically and socially viable policy. Neither comprehensively regulates the immigrants who come and those that hire them, making sure all who are here are accounted for and fully contributing to services provided. What we need is for the president to show the same leadership on immigration reform that he chose to demonstrate on same-sex marriage–totally missing from his likely Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Immigration ranks far behind the “pocketbook” issues of the economy and jobs, but matters to an emerging voting bloc that feels invisible and taken advantage of by both parties.
Mr. Obama we know where you stand on immigration reform. America needs you to deliver–now.
Viviana Hurtado’s blog The Wise Latina Club has won “Best Politics Blogger” awards by LATISM and Blogs by Latinas. She is a regular columnist for Fox News Latino.