Naira, Jose and Cynthia: White House Hunger Strikers against deportation on day eight of our vigil
Cynthia Diaz, Jose Valdez and Naira Zapata all left Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. They had stood vigil in front of the White House in Lafayette Park, refusing food for six days during a hunger strike, and had passed the strike on to new strikers from Texas who arrived yesterday. With marches, hunger strikes and demonstrators in the shadow of the White House all throughout the month of April, will the pressure move Obama, or will he continue his role as the President deporting immigrants faster than any other? At this point, my money's on unilateral reform. There's no hope of getting anything through the House, pressure resulting from a broken system just keeps building, the Latino vote is more pro-immigration than pro-Democrat and I can't see this President willingly handing off such a flawed system to further fester under an incompetent Congress.
The stories shared in Lafayette Park in front of the White House of hunger strikers are familiar. Naira was striking for her fiancé, held in Eloy Detention Center for almost a year now, forcing him to miss the birth of their second child. Jose was striking for his son Jaime, who was arguably arrested for his political activism against ICE and deportations. He is one of three siblings detained with the other two deported, and the first was murdered in the violent town he was deported to. Cynthia Diaz was striking for her mother, arrested in the middle of the night three years ago when she was 15. These are only a few of the many, many readily available stories of family separation, typically done in violation of the Morton Memo's promise to prioritize deportations to security risks.
Gutierrez shedding tears when he hears of detained loved ones and separated families
For those engaged with the immigrant right's movement, the signs on immigration really have been there in a profound way: the political theater of the recent discharge petition and Nancy Pelosi's immigration bill during last year's shutdown; the failure of rightward-leaning reform, complete with a "border-surge," in the Gang of 8 immigration bill; the fight against the ENLIST Act to strengthen the military through rewarding undocumented soldiers; Speaker Boehner going back on his comments on immigration only a week after making a big announcement on them; the sheer volume of the top-tier blowback from Republican 2016 hopefuls like Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) that Jeb Bush suffered for pointing out undocumented immigration as often dedication to one's family over a broken immigration system.
All these signs point to one thing: Immigration can't happen legislatively at least until after 2016. We simply will not be able to get a break from the crazy that comes with election cycle politics until then, and even our non-election cycle politics have completely stagnated on this issue.
While 2014 could offer some change, leading analysts, such as FiveThirtyEight.com's Nate Silver, predict Republicans will likely retake the Senate, and Democrats are unlikely to regain the House. This means Obama will not have the support of a Democratically-controlled House and Senate. In addition, even moderate Republicans are fighting against the ENLIST Act, putting fighting immigration reform arguably above supporting the troops. Finally, Obama wasn't able to get it done when he had a majority in both chambers -- how is he going to turn that around to force Congress to legislatively address an issue that would be controversial even before the Tea Party rolled into town, said no to everything and threatened to primary anyone who disagreed?
The next Congress' GOP will likely be just as receptive as the current to its anti-immigrant base that pushes their politicians to not make even the most reasonable of compromises to address our broken immigration system. To be fair, this isn't every Republican. These are often the same people who followed Donald Trump on his nativist birth certificate hunt: a small but very vocal majority that is highly likely to vote every time and wield disproportionate power within their party.
Currently, Democrats are pushing a narrative that getting more Democrats elected will result in reform, however, that's what the incredibly lop-sided Democrat victory in 2012 was supposed to do. Latino and Asian voters came out to the polls, and sided strongly (over 70 percent) with Obama, however, have yet to see a return on their electoral investment.
Democrats have an uphill battle to retain the power they have, let alone making serious gains in the House to win over the numbers they would need to pass reform over GOP opposition. Even if this were to happen, there is no guarantee that Democrats would not use the political capitol on another project, much like how Obamacare took so much political lift that there was never a serious effort on immigration while the Democrats still controlled the House.
Just looking at the calendar will tell you politics is in trouble: The morbidly grotesque spectacle of the 2012 primaries is about to be repeated, with Donald Trump having already made an appearance at the Freedom Summit next to Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, both early favorites for 2016. There is very little real politics that can be played through the Presidential cycle smokescreen that today seems more like a chaotic Superbowl halftime show gone wrong than an election season. We will either have Obama taking unilateral action while the GOP is still paralyzing Congress on the issue, or we will have this decrepit system passed on to the next President.
With immigration, everything begins and ends with family. Until we see a solution to the record-setting family separations, the Administration can expect to see demonstrators on their front step with heartbreaking stories.