If President Obama mentions immigration at all during his state of the union address, he will likely do so very briefly. In an election year, whatever he says will be an attempt to reconnect with disillusioned Latino voters who, by and large, see the president’s record as one who promised the stars on immigration reform, but subsequently delivered more deportations than any president in history.
Tuesday, I hope the president acknowledges that his “enforcement only” approach towards immigration hasn’t worked, beyond leaving more Latino families in a state of insecurity and fear.
There is little the president can do with an unwilling Congress. One exception is his power to change his administration’s disastrous deportation policies. Recent deportation programs criminalize the very people he claims to want to legalize. Thus, he could announce that programs like Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s “Secure Communities” are immediately suspended.
For Latinos, the “Secure Communities” deportation program has come to symbolize everything that is wrong with the president’s approach to immigration. A mass deportation program known to ensnare traffic violators and others for minor misdemeanors makes us more secure? Really?
And while yes, the Republican party spews a particularly nasty brand of xenophobic vitriol, pro-immigrant voters have to wonder how to cast their vote when the incumbent Democratic president has deported more people than any other in history. The president’s suspension of the controversial “Secure Communities” deportation program would show that he is serious about changing course and getting us back on the right track towards reform.
As President Obama uses the state of the union to start his re-election campaign in earnest, I would like to see a return of candidate Obama from 2008, who passionately proclaimed that “when nursing mothers are torn from their babies, when children come home from school to find their parents missing … The system just isn’t working and we need to change it.”
We’ll know the president is serious about “changing it” when he stops propagating the very programs that perpetuate mass family separation. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but it’s a campaign year, after all.
Sarahi Uribe is East Coast Organizer for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network
(Originally published in the Guardian.com)