What seems like a lifetime ago, during the presidential debates, former Vice President Joe Biden said he and President Barack Obama “made a mistake” because they did not achieve comprehensive immigration reform during their administration.
You say, “tomato,” and I say, “to-mah-to.” You say, “mistake” and I say, “conscious inaction.”
The Obama-Biden administration pinned the blame solely on Republicans who opposed broader reform. But Obama and Biden themselves contributed to the inaction, making political calculations that left legislative efforts languishing throughout their first term in office. This forced Obama to rely heavily upon executive actions, which were unraveled during the Trump administration.
The Obama-Biden administration set a record for removals of immigrants convicted of serious crimes. Some critics on the left labeled Obama “deporter-in-chief.”
During their administration, the budget for immigration enforcement jumped to a staggering $18 billion annually.
To be fair, according to a study by the Migration Policy Institute, overall, 5.2 million people were deported under Obama, compared to 10.3 million under President George W. Bush and 12.2 million under President Bill Clinton.
Enter Biden’s U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, an “all your heart’s desire immigration wish” that sounds dreamy after four years in the depths of darkness, but is only possible because the act does not mention the “A” word: amnesty.
In the excitement of the Biden administration’s announcement of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, let’s not forget that having Democratic control of Congress and a Biden White House do not automatically guarantee meaningful immigration reform.
The only hope for the immigrant community does not lie in Republicans and Democrats getting along; it lies in the power of the Latino vote. It lies in naturalized Americans not forgetting their plight as undocumented immigrants and choosing to be voices for the voiceless.
Immigrants were left behind in the Bush-Cheney, Obama-Biden, and Trump-Pence administrations by a combination of factors that, to the naked eye, fall along party lines: xenophobia fueled by 9/11, eagerness to calm the fears of the right in a transitional political period, and the rise of vocal white supremacy cloaked in Trump flags.
But if we look closer, there is a common denominator – the belief that the Latino vote is not worth the political risk – that Latinos are “low-propensity” voters not worthy of major outreach. But then, this year, Georgia elected two Democratic U.S. senators, and all of a sudden, there is something tangible to gain.
According to NBC News, while Black voters were vital to Raphael Warnock’s and Jon Ossoff’s victories in the Senate runoff, the mobilization of Latino voters by progressives was a critical part of the multicultural coalition that got the job done.
Looking closely at the results, the change in engagement was undeniable. The last time Georgia had a statewide runoff, in 2018, only 10% of eligible Latinos voted. Last month, that number was shattered as 65% of Latino voters had cast ballots in early voting. According to Bernard Fraga, associate professor of political science at Emory University and author of “The Turnout Gap: Race, Ethnicity and Political Inequality in a Diversifying America,” 78% of the 174,500 Latinos who voted in the general election participated in the runoff, demonstrating what the community can do when it chooses to flex its political muscles.
So, as it has always been, we are our only hope. We are grateful to hear the Biden administration’s positive direction toward meaningful immigration reform but let us not forget: We are the ones we have been waiting for. Georgia has shown us this.
Emanuela Palmares is the editor of Tribuna Newspaper, a publication in English, Portuguese, and Spanish covering CT for over 20 years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @EmanuelaforCT.
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