For Latinos, the Deportation Crisis Is Personal

Activists at more than 50 rallies around the country this weekend urged the White House to freeze deportations and stop dividing families.

Janet Murguía is the president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).    
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Janet Murguía
April 7, 2014, 5:58 a.m.

Ed­it­or’s Note: More than 50 “Day of Ac­tion” ral­lies took place around the coun­try this week­end, in an ef­fort to bring at­ten­tion to the re­cord-high num­ber of de­port­a­tions. Last month, Pres­id­ent Obama asked the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment to re­view im­mig­ra­tion law-en­force­ment prac­tices and po­ten­tially ease the rate of de­port­a­tions.

Some­time in the next few days our coun­try will reach a troub­ling mile­stone — the 2 mil­lionth de­port­a­tion un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Be­gin­ning with our 2007 re­port, Pay­ing the Price, which doc­u­mented the enorm­ous im­pact that de­port­a­tions have on U.S. chil­dren who are left be­hind, the Na­tion­al Coun­cil of La Raza has ex­pressed deep con­cern over the dev­ast­at­ing ef­fects that a re­cord num­ber of de­port­a­tions have had on Lati­nos.

Only re­cently has our mes­sage seemed to have broken through, in large part due to my re­marks at the 2014 NCLR Cap­it­al Awards. What may have made that speech not­able was the per­son­al nature of the strong words I had for both Pres­id­ent Obama and House Speak­er John Boehner.

The reas­on is simple: For me and for the Latino com­munity, the im­mig­ra­tion is­sue is per­son­al. In fact, there is noth­ing more per­son­al than sep­ar­at­ing our fam­il­ies.

For us, 2 mil­lion is not just an ab­stract num­ber. We know the faces and the stor­ies be­hind those num­bers. They in­clude a col­league who wit­nessed her fath­er be­ing taken in­to cus­tody and then de­por­ted; the little girl who burst in­to tears as she asked Pope Fran­cis to help get her fath­er out of de­ten­tion; the ba­bies and tod­dlers placed in­to foster care be­cause their par­ents were picked up while work­ing.

This is not an isol­ated set of an­ec­dotes, but a full-fledged hu­man­it­ari­an crisis.

NCLR’s re­port shows that for every two people de­por­ted, one child is left be­hind. More than 200,000 par­ents of U.S. chil­dren — of­ten the fam­ily’s bread­win­ner — have been de­por­ted in the past two years.

It feels deeply per­son­al to us that poli­cy­makers are not do­ing enough to end, or even al­le­vi­ate, this crisis. It is no secret that we have been frus­trated by the pres­id­ent’s as­ser­tion that his hands are tied. We be­lieve that he can, and should, do more. He is able to do so un­der his ex­ec­ut­ive au­thor­ity, an act that would be well with­in the law.

Our spir­its were lif­ted two weeks ago when the pres­id­ent an­nounced he had ordered the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment to con­duct a policy re­view. However, the Latino com­munity is fully aware that the ul­ti­mate solu­tion — a per­man­ent, last­ing one — has to come from Con­gress, and that im­mig­ra­tion re­form is be­ing blocked by the House Re­pub­lic­an caucus. That is why I have also had strong, per­son­al words for Speak­er Boehner.

It was both disin­genu­ous and in­sult­ing for the House’s top lead­er to lay the blame for the lack of le­gis­lat­ive re­form on the pres­id­ent’s pur­por­ted re­fus­al to en­force the law, when Boehner’s own mem­bers have been sit­ting on their hands un­will­ing to mark up, dis­cuss, or vote on a bill for al­most a year. That’s how long the Sen­ate bill has been wait­ing for House con­sid­er­a­tion. In fact, in­stead of mov­ing on the most ur­gent is­sue fa­cing the Latino com­munity, the House pushed to undo the over­whelm­ingly pop­u­lar De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals pro­gram, which provides tem­por­ary re­lief to Dream­ers.

The Sen­ate’s re­cent vote against a res­ol­u­tion in hon­or of Cesar Chavez’s birth­day — one of the His­pan­ic com­munity’s most be­loved her­oes — has not gone un­noticed either.

To us, these ac­tions are signs of dis­respect. Re­pub­lic­ans in Con­gress should know that we are tak­ing this in­ac­tion per­son­ally.

To evoke an old say­ing, the per­son­al is polit­ic­al. Earli­er this week, The New York Times re­por­ted on an “en­thu­si­asm gap” among His­pan­ic voters who feel dis­con­nec­ted from both parties. This gap will likely af­fect Demo­crats more than Re­pub­lic­ans in the up­com­ing midterm elec­tions. But while Demo­crats may have a prob­lem this Novem­ber, the Re­pub­lic­ans will face an epic prob­lem in 2016 and every elec­tion there­after if they do not fun­da­ment­ally re­pair their re­la­tion­ship with the fast­est-grow­ing group of voters in the coun­try.

And for both parties, a word to the wise: It will take more than plat­it­udes, stunts, and “feel-good” mar­ket­ing to over­come this gap. It will take real, mean­ing­ful, and — might I say — per­son­al ac­tion.

Janet Mur­guía is the pres­id­ent and CEO of the Na­tion­al Coun­cil of La Raza.

HAVE AN OPIN­ION ON POLICY AND CHAN­GING DEMO­GRAPH­ICS?The Next Amer­ica wel­comes op-ed pieces that ex­plore the polit­ic­al, eco­nom­ic, and so­cial im­pacts of the pro­found ra­cial and cul­tur­al changes fa­cing our na­tion, par­tic­u­larly rel­ev­ant to edu­ca­tion, eco­nomy, the work­force, and health.  Email Jan­ell Ross at jross@na­tion­al­journ­al.com. Please fol­low us on Twit­ter and Face­book.

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