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Christine Neumann-Ortiz

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We Can't Wait for Change

Posted: 08/11/09 10:45 PM ET

At a press conference with Mexico's President Calderón and Canada's Prime Minister Harper, President Obama responded to a question on the timeline for immigration reform by stating that immigration reform was a priority but would have to wait till 2010 after health care, energy, and financial regulation bills were passed.

This is a reversal of his campaign promise to pass immigration reform in 2009. Patience for 2010 is hard to come by when the new administration persists with an enforcement-only strategy that Obama criticized during the campaign trail. Both represent a betrayal to Latino voters who were a key constitutency in delivering the presidency and a majority of Democrats to the US Congress.

What President Obama and other Democrats fail to take into account is that the Latino community can't wait till 2010 for justice to arrive.

The escalation of human suffering continues: civil and human rights violations in detention facilities; families torn apart as armed ICE agents arrest loved ones in their home; increased hate crimes and racial profiling of Latinos; workplace abuses by unscrupluous employers; all of this and more have been a motivating factor for what Latinos expected in 2009: change.

Yet, where is the change? There have been some modest gestures: lifting a 5 year ban for legal immigrant access to S-chip and not including the faulty E-Verify program in the stimulus package (later included in federal contracts).

Yet the two central demands of the immigrant rights movement: stop the deportations and passage of humane immigration reform are nowhere in sight.

Shockingly, the Department of Homeland Security under Secretary Janet Napolitano's leadership continues to support and expand Bush-era enforcement strategies. Despite numerous reports documenting human rights abuses in detention facilities, DHS refuses to create enforcable, independent regulations of the detention system.

For-profit prisons and local and state jails continue to cash in from the criminalization and detention of immigrant workers and youth.

Other administrative reforms have also gone unheeded. DHS refuses to repeal 287G agreements that have led to a vigilante cowboy culture by local and state law enforcement, such as Arizona's Sheriff Arpaio, who has been charged with over a thousand civil rights violations.

DHS has been window dressing workplace raids by pushing I-9 audits; which hurt workers as much any workplace raid. Indeed, the latest "desktop raid" targetted a unionized meatpacking plant. As one immigrant worker observed, "in the fields they never raid; because you have to be truly desperate to work there."

Social Security No Match letters sent to employers, that have less than 1% effectiveness, have yet to be repealed.

It is clear that the Obama Administration has a political strategy that continues to cater to the most virulent xenophobic section of American society and a private prison and defense industry.

Legalization should not be postponed--in an economy that is largely based on consumerism, anything that puts money in the pockets of workers is a good thing. Legalization has been shown to raise wages, increase tax revenues, and encourage people to spend more.

If politicians make promises they don't keep-who should we believe?

We need to believe in ourselves and hold politicians accountable not just in the voting booth but in calls to their office, public forums and meetings. The need for visible protests that force the issue into the public eye cannot stop. Indeed, it must escalate.

Immigration was a losing electoral platform for Republicans in 2006 and 2008. If Democrats don't challenge the dehumanizing policies of the past and deliver humane immmigration reform it will be a bankrupt electoral platform in 2010 and 2012.