Backing Down the President

Posted on August 24, 2011


By Elvira Arellano
Last week President Obama’s administration finally bent to the pressure from the Latino community – and the threat of the withdrawal of the Latino vote. It will be some time before we know exactly how Obama’s new policy will affect people. What we know is that a working group will be establiished to defer deportations, and in some cases offer work permits, to dream act students and undocumented persons who have U.S. citizen children or other strong ties to the community – but no criminal convictions. Future deportation actions will presumably follow the same guidelines but be decided on a case by case basis.
We have a long way to go, but, make no mistake, this is a victory for our community. In November of 2010, Familia Latina Unida/Sin Fronteras began to target President Obama, calling on him to use his executive authority and discretion to stop the deportations and separation of families. We specifically called for special consideration for dream act students and the parents of U.S. citizen children. We simply argued that together these 5.1 million children deserved the right to have their families with them. It is indeed troubling to report how difficult it was to find allies to confront the President. For six weeks, our youth organization, La FuerZa Juventud, made the demand on the President and were arrested at ICE headquarters in Chicago while our Latino leaders warned us against confronting the President. We were told that “You will just elect a Republican President.” We were criticized again we when we said Latinos should withhold their votes if the President did not act.
Finally, our long time champion and leader Luis Gutierrez responded to our call. He traveled tirelessly to 30 cities to bring the demand on the President forward at mass meetings of the faith community – from Providence, Rhode Island, to Los Angeles, California. He created a platform for young people and mothers and fathers to bring forth the facts of their cases. He did so even though he was criticized and attacked by the White House – and some Latino leaders.
For nine months President Obama refused to admit that he had the power as the President of the United States to stop at least some of these deportations and separation of families. The White house hired an army of Latino “leaders” and professional organizers to undermine our “Campaign for American Children and Families.” Pressure from the White House was put on Latino media – and some caved in. As late as two weeks ago, responding to Gutierrez’s civil disobedience arrest in front of the White House, Obama issued a public letter refusing to use his executive discretion to stop deportations and telling Gutierrez to “use his moral persuasiveness to build a coalition with Republicans to pass immigration reform.” Gutierrez reminded the President that he, the President, had himself told the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that “no immigration legislation could be passed through this Republican controled congress.” Gutierrez continued to press for the White House to admit to the truth, the truth that the President, who had deported one million people, did have the power to stop most of these deportations and separation of families.
One of the White House’s greatest concerns – expressed forcefully to Gutierrez – was the threatened “lockbox campaign”, a campaign to register new Latino voters but have them put their vote “in a lockbox” and to not take those votes out of the “lockbox” unless the President stopped the deportations.
Finally, the White House recognized that Latinos knew that he in fact had the executive power to stop the deportations. In other words, they knew he was lying. When he tried to claim he could do nothing without the congress, crowds responded with the chant, “Yes You Can!” Finally the White House recognized that the Latino community would withhold their votes if he did not act.
There is a lot of work that must be done to make use of the new guidelines to defend our young people and our families on a case by case basis. We must do that work because we can save hundreds of thousands of people from deportation and keep millions of our people together with the children and families they have formed. Familia Latina Unida will dedicate itself to that task and we are calling on people to form “Defence and Cooperation committees” in every community, and to get the information they need to defend our families from deportation. We must not be exploited and misused by lawyers and notarios. We must force ICE to recognize the rights we have won. We must ourselves become organized and informed.
We should also learn the lessons of these last nine months. Organizations willing to stand up to the President and the Democratic leadership, no matter what the consequences; young people willing to march and be arrested; families willing to bring forward their testimony in public can together bring out the truth and the truth can unify our community. When we are unified as a community then those in power will have to bend to our will – because God has made us many!
We need to continue to organize against the secure communities program, which uses racist local police to criminalize and deport our community, and we must fight against the ten year ban that they place on people who seek to keep their families together. We need to organize, register to vote and march – and be prepared to shut the nation down if necessary. If we dare to struggle, we dare to win. If we don’t dare to struggle, we don’t deserve to win.

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