Wikileaks Reveal Democrats' Erroneous Approach To Central Americans

The Democratic Party has overtly courted the Latino electorate, but Central Americans' issues are largely ignored despite the community's growing demographics and influence.
08/09/2016 06:16 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Co-authored by Leisy Abrego, Ester Hernandez, and Arely Zimmerman

We all know about the Republican presidential nominee's stance against immigrants. What we've heard less about in this election cycle is Hillary Clinton's approach to immigration policy. The Democrats and her response to Central American refugees provides some insight into how she might handle immigration policy as commander in chief. Based on faulty logic about what is spurring migration from the region, Clinton and the Democrats have publicly supported the detention and deportation of Central American refugees.

In summer 2014 when media shone a spotlight on the elevated numbers of children and mothers arriving at the southern border, pundits and politicians argued that Central Americans were coming to take advantage of President Obama's "lax immigration enforcement" and Executive Actions. Report after report by academic researchers and human rights observers, indicates that these migrants face violence and insecurity in their home countries and on their dangerous journey north. Humane relief, including Temporary Protected Status (TPS), provides protection from these abuses.

To our surprise, emails released by WikiLeaks last month reveal that former staffers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) have failed to comprehend this evidence. The messages, like Clinton's record, provide a window into the inner workings of the Democratic Party establishment.

On May 16, 2016, Luis Miranda, former Director of Communications at the Democratic Committee, prepared his team to engage with immigrant rights advocates including members of CASA de Maryland, a pro-immigrant rights organization founded by Central American refugees in the 1980's:

They want us to send a message to Central Americans to keep paying smugglers and put those kids at risk of abuse and even death. Frankly the rhetoric on this and calls for TPS are irresponsible, they send a message that ends up in more lives lost.

From this dangerously erroneous perspective, Miranda argues that implementing actual refugee policy for Central Americans fleeing violence would simply prompt more people to come. He implies what conservatives have stated explicitly: that we are merely dealing with people who want to abuse the law.

Clinton has not veered far from the Party's line on immigration. After playing a central role as Secretary of State in supporting the Honduran military coup in 2009 which has contributed to destabilization and a rise in migration from the region, Clinton's first public response was that Central American children should be sent back. Later, on the campaign trail, both she and her running mate, Tim Kaine, stated that Clinton has reversed her position on sending back Central American children and that she will move to provide immigration reform within the first 100 days in office. Yet, comprehensive immigration reform proposals of the past have failed to address the issues propelling Central American refugees and their specific conditions within the US.

Hillary Clinton and the DNC staffers replicate reasoning evident in the US government's reprehensible approach toward a previous generation of Central American refugees. Since the 1980s, and despite well-documented fears of state terror and legitimate claims to asylum, Central Americans have qualified for few legalization programs. Without stable legal status, it is difficult to thrive in the United States in both the short and long-term.

Most recently, their faulty logic has led to long-term detention for hundreds of Central American women and children seeking asylum. In an attempt to respond to calls for humane treatment of refugees, Obama recently announced the creation and later the extension of the Central American Minors program. But, this program has to be substantially broadened to adequately address the regional refugee crisis we are confronting.

The Democratic Party has overtly courted the Latino electorate, but Central Americans' issues are largely ignored despite the community's growing demographics and influence. Reflecting this negligence, the released emails reveal that Luis Miranda reiterated that the DNC was, "not going to fight on the Central Americans." Central American activists, however, are organized, well-informed, and deeply networked from decades of social movement organizing and will continue to call for a humane response to the current crisis.

In the spirit of true progress for immigrants and refugees, it is imperative that as president, Clinton extend TPS for people here from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras; provide asylum for those fleeing violence; close all immigrant detention centers; and put an end to deportations.

Ester Hernandez is Professor of Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies at California State University, Los Angeles.
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Arely Zimmerman is Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at Mills College.

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