Blacklisting Immigration Reform

07/22/2010 02:00 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Jorge-Mario Cabrera Director of Communications and Public Relations, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles

For a nation with a clear repugnance for them, they sure pop up often in history. Senator Joseph McCarthy was very fond of the one he called "Enemies from Within." President Richard Nixon named his "The Political Enemies Project." Most recently, Tea Partiers released their latest salvo titled "Enemies of Liberty." These have all been lists--commonly referred to as blacklists or whitelists--containing names and personal information with the expressed and unapologetic intent of punishing and striking fear.

A few weeks ago, a new kind of list was released to media outlets and law enforcement agencies in Utah. The rolls contained the names and personal information of 1,300 unauthorized immigrants and were made public by two state employees upset with the federal government's failure to fix the immigration system.

Utah's governor and some conservative and Republican leaders expressed disapproval of the dissemination of the list and acted promptly to investigate its origin. Conversely, anti-immigrant activists and conservative talk-show hosts praised the two "patriots" for doing what they say others are too cowardly to do. In the end, two people, who may or may not have acted alone, have been fired and should face possible criminal charges -- while millions nationwide have dug themselves deeper into the shadows. The message they heard loud and clear: we will make your life a living hell until you decide to leave this country.

Ironically, the list also contained names of citizens and permanent residents.

Utah, unfortunately, is only a symptom of a much more serious illness. America is in the midst of an epic battle between those who view immigrants as integral to our nation's past, present, and future, and those who see all immigrants, but especially unauthorized workers, as a national threat and the perfect target for political ping pong. In the time of promised change, bad things are happening often and the worst is yet to come.

There is a fascinating race going on in Washington, DC, with Democrats and Republicans trying to outdo each other by opposing, supporting or failing to react to Arizona's passage of SB1070, one of the toughest anti-immigrant laws in the nation. Each party's reaction is of course a well-rehearsed campaign spectacle intent on getting the upper hand in the November election. Completely forgotten are the millions of immigrant and non-immigrant families whole lives could radically change for the better if Congress went to work on a fair, smart and practical proposal to one of our nation's most pressing problem. Both parties know a bipartisan solution is within reach, but so far Democrats and Republicans, especially Republicans, have made the calculated choice they will not do anything about it.

Long-time members of Congress in both parties--including a few now-rabid enforcement-only supporters--have advocated and supported versions of immigration reform in the past. President Obama's promises he would prioritize immigration reform, alleviate the suffering of many, ended with the paralysis in Washington. But the lack of political and moral will, the silence of some, and the stubborn opposition of others have stopped a real solution from coming forward and instead fostered intolerance and scapegoating, two opportunistic viruses sickening our body politic.

Which brings me back to Utah and the list made public by at least two disgruntled Americans. I am sure they felt their actions would be approved by Americans. The irony is that in poll after poll Americans indicate they are of two minds about immigration.

In the absence of clear direction from the federal government, a significant chunk of Americans show a clear appreciation for harsh enforcement measures such as "Secure Communities," a federal program similar to SB1070 but approved by ICE. On the same token, a program that requires immigrants to register, pass a background check, learn English, pay any back due taxes, and obey all laws is something the majority of Americans approve of.

Whereas on one hand Americans show unrestrained fear of immigrants, on the other they recognize their value and place in our nation's past, present, and future and are willing to take the next step to see a way out of this crisis. Politicians thus far have conveniently ignored the second half of this complex equation and naively or on purpose continue to fan the flames of discord between immigrant Americans and everyone else by actively passing harsh anti-immigrant laws or pronouncing themselves as "anti-amnesty" and blaming all crime on "the illegals." This self-constructed divide has led to the passage of SB1070 in Arizona and the dissemination of the list in Utah.

Financial reform, health care reform, bank reform, and immigration reform are all efforts that should carry the same amount of weight and passion for the American electorate and its elected leaders. Sadly, and not unlike in Utah, Republicans and Democrats in Congress have decided to list immigration reform as an undesirable topic they will not touch no matter how much it deserves moral and practical attention.