Advocates Looking for Leadership on Immigration Reform, Not More of the Same Bush-Era Tactics
Tomorrow Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), will hold a meeting with 130 immigrant advocates, business and labor leaders, and law enforcement representatives to discuss immigration policy. This “cattle call” comes amidst a growing chorus of criticism and concern from Latinos and other immigrant advocates that Secretary Napolitano is emphasizing the continuation of controversial Bush-era enforcement tactics and downplaying the need for comprehensive immigration reform, and that President Obama has said that it will be 2010 before reform is addressed by Congress. The following is a statement from Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
“Jorge Ramos, Univision anchor and the most trusted name in Spanish language news, penned a column yesterday in the Spanish version of the Miami Herald about the current state of affairs. In the column, Ramos expresses his understanding of the risks of moving forward too fast, especially with the health care debate dominating politics, but goes on to describe the risks of delaying immigration reform [as translated from the original]:
“Rushing reform in a Congress currently dealing with a host of other issues could be fatal. It has happened to us before in 2006 and 2007. But waiting too long could destroy the legitimate hope of millions. George Bush delayed movement on immigration reform for 7 years, and when he wanted to move it, he had no political capital left.” Ramos added, “Hispanics voted overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008 – 67 percent – in exchange for his promise of legalizing undocumented immigrants. They are not going to forget that promise. I think Hispanics and Latinos can wait for the President a little bit more. There is no other choice. He makes his own action calendar. But if nothing happens in 2010, Latino voters are going to remind Obama about that unfulfilled promise in the next election, giving what they got.”
Ramos is right on both points: Obama is committed to reform and a brief delay is understandable; but unless he delivers on his promise of action the political consequences in 2010 could be significant. It’s not that Latino immigrants and their loved ones will suddenly vote for a Republican Party that seems bent on giving Hispanic voters the back of the hand at every turn, but that it will be difficult to mobilize them to come out in the record numbers of 2008 if fervent hopes turn into dashed ones.
Looking to tomorrow’s meeting, what can be said about the role of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano? Many of us applauded her appointment to the post. As the Governor of Arizona she showed skill and conviction regarding immigration: yes, we have to enforce the laws, she said, but the best way to do so is to change the laws through comprehensive reform so they can be effectively enforced. At an important meeting on June 25th, a gathering in which President Obama met with over 30 key Congressional leaders from both parties to discuss the need for comprehensive immigration reform, the President committed to moving forward in this Congress, and appointed Secretary Napolitano as the President’s point person on the reform effort.
How is the President’s point person on immigration reform doing? During a recent speech, which was billed as a major address on immigration, Secretary Napolitano stated that reform of the broken immigration system “will be the responsibility of the Congress” but that “we are not going to sit by at the Department of Homeland Security and wait for change in the laws. We’re going to enforce the laws that are, but we can reform what we’re doing as we wait for reform in the law.”
In a column yesterday, Maribel Hastings (former Washington Correspondent for La Opinión, the largest Spanish language newspaper in the country, and now Senior Advisor to America’s Voice) criticized Napolitano’s inclination to “wait” for reform of the law rather than pushing to make reform a reality:
“[A]s governor of Arizona, Napolitano took every opportunity she could to talk about the urgency of reforming our immigration system, so that laws could be enforced in an effective way. It is of no use if we continue to have millions of undocumented immigrants among us, she once said, a sort of “silent amnesty” as she described it. She said that physical walls don’t work because there will always be a way to get over or around them….Now she barely mentions the issue of comprehensive immigration reform that she is supposed to promote, like during the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast in June, when she dedicated the bulk of her speech to addressing the need to be prepared to deal with natural or manmade disasters.” With respect to Napolitano’s statement that it is up to Congress to change the law, Hastings added, “It’s true that Congress has the final say on what bills it approves or rejects. But there is also something called ‘leadership’ and she is expected to demonstrate hers while looking for consensus with regards to immigration reform. Leadership that Obama, who is ultimately her boss, must also demonstrate, as well as a Democrat-led Congress that controls the legislative agenda.”
These voices represent the hopes and fears of millions of Latino families – many of them “mixed status” families composed of citizens, voters, permanent residents, and undocumented immigrants. America’s Voice joins them in the hope that the President’s point person leaves tomorrow’s meeting with renewed purpose, and begins to educate Members of Congress and the American people about how comprehensive immigration reform will solve the illegal immigration problem in a practical and humane way. If not, perhaps the Administration will need to re-think its approach.