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Dr. Chris Zepeda-Millan Headshot

Despite Nod to Dreamers, Latinos Still Stuck Between a Deportation and a Nativist

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Being "stuck between a rock and a hard place" is a common idiom for having to choose between two unpleasant alternatives. Despite the Obama Administration's announcement to quasi-legalize the status of all DREAM Act-eligible youth, five months before the 2012 Presidential Election the situation Latinos find themselves in is better described as being "stuck between a deportation and a rabid nativist."

Without a doubt, from their racist anti-Latino rhetoric to their blocking of immigration reform in Congress, attempts to end birth-right citizenship, and their opposition to bilingual education and ethnic studies, Republicans are unquestionably the more nativist of the two political parties.

Anyone who thinks a "President Romney" would be any different need only ask Latinos in Arizona and Alabama what life is like when Republicans control every branch of government, including the executive office. These states have implemented the nation's most draconian anti-immigrant laws which, among other punitive aspects, legalized the racial profiling and harassment of U.S. and foreign-born Latinos. If elected president, Romney has already publically pledged to work on national immigration issues with the architect of both of these legislations. These policy positions help explain why Latinos continue to view Republicans less favorable than Democrats.

With that said, during his first three years in office President Obama has deported more immigrants (over a million!) than any presidential administration in U.S. history. These actions have earned Obama the title of being our nation's premier "Deportation President." While this label was previously attributable to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who presided under the infamous 1950s "Operation Wetback" (which resulted in the repatriation of over 800,000 U.S. and foreign-born Latinos), it is now firmly Obama's to keep.

Despite his administration's claims of focusing on deporting foreign-born criminals--and the Department of Homeland Security's recent announcement of the supposed success of this shift in strategy--the number of immigrants with criminal records deported has actually declined. This means that the majority of the mothers, fathers, and children deported by Obama have been people with merely administrative, not criminal violations. Consequently, these acts of state repression have had devastating effects, tearing immigrant families apart and terrorizing Latino neighborhoods nationwide.

During the historic 2008 election, Latinos voted in record numbers and played a vital role in the coalition that helped catapult Obama into the White House. The issue of immigration was fundamental to how they vote not only because it strikes at the heart of their identity, but also because almost half of Latino voters in 2008 were foreign-born. In addition, immigrant Latinos actually voted for Obama at a higher rate (80% vs.72%) compared to the general Latino electorate. This year, Latinos are again predicted to be a deciding voting bloc in key battleground states that Obama needs to win if he hopes to remain in office.

Unfortunately for the president, despite the latest survey data indicating that the majority of Latino voters prefer him over Romney, these poll numbers are somewhat misleading. Latinos strongly disapprove of and will continue to hold Obama accountable for his deportation policies. Consequently, dampened Latino enthusiasm for him will likely lead to the diminishment of their turnout at the ballot box.

Today's announcement by the president is an attempt to rectify the electoral quagmire he finds himself in with Latinos. But his decision to stop deporting and begin granting work permits to some undocumented youth is a halfhearted election ploy literally stolen from Marco Rubio and the Republican Party's "legalization without citizenship" playbook. Because it is not an actual law and merely a "deferral of action," Obama's policy change can easily be reversed in five months if he loses the election.

Moreover, by "coming out of the shadows" and identifying themselves in order to acquire a work permit, undocumented youth will be helping create an official government database with their names and home addresses that could later be used (i.e. if Romney wins the election) by ICE to track down and deport them. Overall, while having some "temporary relief," undocumented youth will continue to pay taxes and contribute their skills and talents to our nation, but remain without the security of having citizenship in the country they were raised in.

Ironically, if Democrats lose the presidency because they fail to recapture key Latino swing states, such as Colorado, Florida, or Nevada, Obama could himself be electorally "deported" from the White House as an indirect result of his own deportation policies.

If we are left with a Romney presidency, both Latinos and Obama lose. If the president wants to make a genuine effort to prevent this from happening he should pressure Congress by calling for a moratorium on the deportation of all undocumented immigrants without serious criminal records until the House and Senate pass comprehensive immigration reform.

If he decides to stay the course and continue his mass deportations of people without papers, the president will have one benefit many Latino immigrants don't. Unlike the families his actions have already torn apart, Obama's family will at least know the exact date their "deportation notice" will arrive--Election Day, November 6th.

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