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From Hope to Fear: The State of the Union for the Immigrant Community

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Frank Sharry: Between Home Raids Stoking Fear and GOP Campaign Stoking Hate, Immigrant Community Wonders What’s Next 

The following is  statement by Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice.

One year ago the state of the union for immigrants was hopeful.  It felt as though we were on the cusp of a new and more welcoming era for immigrants in America.  Now, between the Obama Administration’s home raids against Central American refugees and the Republicans’ full-throated embrace of nativist rhetoric and policies, the immigrant community’s hope has been replaced by fear.

Think back to last year’s State of the Union.  Thanks to the power and courage of the immigrant community and pro-reform movement, President Obama had finally made good on his promise to take action in the face of congressional inaction and Republicans’ refusal to deliver a vote on immigration reform legislation.  The November 2014 announcement to expand DACA, establish DAPA, and shift immigration enforcement priorities energized millions of immigrant families.  It offered hope of a new day, one in which most immigrant families would have loved ones that would be able to work legally, be safe from deportation and live without the constant fear of being torn apart.

What a difference a year makes.  The Republicans’ politically-motivated lawsuit against executive action has played politics with people’s lives, blocking the deferred action programs from taking effect – for now – and threatening to keep millions of immigrants in limbo past President Obama’s time in office.  The emergence of Donald Trump and his mainstreaming of hate and racism directed at Mexicans, Muslims and the “other,” has ushered in a GOP-wide scramble to the far right on immigration.  The entire Republican presidential field pledges to ramp up enforcement, end executive action programs and block an initial path to legalization and an achievable path to citizenship – despite support for such measures by three quarters of the nation.  The leading contenders, meanwhile, are sprinting to the right, running on mass-deportation or self-deportation platforms, proudly trumpeting their associations with Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and receiving the explicit support and endorsement of white nationalist leaders in America.

Until recently, the nativism on the Republican campaign trail served to clarify the differences between the two parties on immigration.  However, the Obama Administration’s recent decision to launch home raids against Central American refugees are now blurring some of these distinctions.  The raids are sowing fear throughout the entire immigrant community.  Key Spanish language media coverage of the raids, as well as on-the-ground reporting from the New York Times and the Washington Post, capture just how terrorizing it is to have armed agents storm into homes, rousting children out of bed and carting away vulnerable women and children.  As a result of the outcry from the immigrant community, leading Democrats in both chambers of Congress are denouncing the Obama Administration’s policy, while Democratic candidates for the presidential nomination have all come out in opposition.  In fact, the only leading political actor who has praised President Obama’s raids is Donald Trump.

Between Obama’s home raids stoking fear and Republicans’ rhetoric stoking hate, immigrant communities are wondering what’s next.  Has America turned on them, or are politicians making short-term calculations that will backfire in a changing America?  One thing is certain: in the face of fear and demagoguery, the immigrant community is speaking up loudly and organizing to defend itself.  Those who disregard this power do so at their own peril.