Hispanic Heritage Month is officially over. The period from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 has traditionally been a time for politicians to make fools out of themselves in order to pander -- or "Hispander" -- to Latinos, just for a month. Whether it be the Arizona man who changed his name to Cesar Chavez to run for Congress or House Republicans' "Latino outreach" video last year, such attempts at glossing over decades of policies that limit Latinos' access to health care, equal pay, and documentation are laughable at best.
Watching politicians make speeches honoring Latinos' contributions to our economy and history feels ever more hollow when their policies barely recognize the humanity of so many other Latinos living without papers or seeking asylum in the United States. After a long year of hoping that immigration reform was just around the corner, we heard Obama declare in June that he would take executive action by the end of the summer to address our broken immigration system. Instead, a few weeks ago, he broke his promise, stating that he would delay any action until after this November's elections.
At the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Obama attempted to speak about the ways in which his administration has supported Latinos and increased pathways to citizenship for immigrants. Activist Blanca Hernandez called him out on his "Hispandering," interrupting his speech to tell him, "That is not enough! There are families outside waiting."
This administration's strategies to curb and manage undocumented migration fail to deter migrants from crossing the border and continue to criminalize and mistreat those who make it into the country. In the past year, the U.S. has had to construct two new family detention facilities to house the thousands of unaccompanied minors and women who are apprehended at the border. Almost half the children being apprehended at the border are girls, who face almost guaranteed sexual violence on the journey north.
Because of the level of violence in their countries of origin and along the journey to the U.S. border, most detainees housed in U.S. family detention centers are dealing with severe trauma, yet they have very limited access to mental and physical health services while they are waiting for their cases to be resolved. In spite of indications that most cases should be seriously considered for asylum eligibility, women and children are being fast-tracked into deportation proceedings without the slightest care for due process, in what volunteer lawyers are now calling the "Rocket Docket." In spite of the human rights problems being documented in family detention centers and the myriad of cheaper and more humane alternatives to detention, Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently announced plans to build another family facility in Dilley, Texas.
Undocumented immigrants already residing in the U.S. face similarly racist and useless policies. Since taking office, President Obama has deported over 2 million people, tearing families apart and sending people back to dangerous situations in their countries of origin. A highly criticized part of this system is the Secure Communities program, which forces local law enforcement to check the immigration status of those they apprehend. This program has been blamed for making undocumented immigrants reluctant to call the police when they are in danger. Undocumented victims of abuse, for example, are forced to make impossible choices. Proponents of the program argue that it helps reduce crime rates supposedly caused by undocumented migration; however, a recent study shows that it has no effect on crime rates. In fact, this carryover from the Bush administration has resulted in the deportation of more innocent people than criminals. And yet Secure Communities is still in effect, and immigrant communities are being terrorized each day.
Our immigration system is pouring money into practices that treat Latino immigrants as less than human while politicians celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month to vaguely Latin elevator music.
Immigration is not the only issue where our representatives are failing us. Just this month, Senate Republicans voted down -- for the fourth time -- the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would increase penalties for employers found guilty of pay discrimination. As it is, Latinas are paid less than any other demographic, earning on an average of 54 cents to every $1 a white man makes. Women of color are being grossly underpaid for their work, and our government is doing nothing about it.
Celebrating Latinos and their heritage means treating us like people, not problems. Until politicians realize this, they should not expect Latinos' attention, or our votes.