Obama's Immigration Boat

Professor and columnist Agustin Palacios shares his perspectives on why Obama's current immigration policies do not go far enough.

The Federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, came at a time when the Obama administration faced mounting pressure by Latin@ activists, including undocumented students. The Dreamers, a movement by courageous undocumented students pushing for their legalization and that of their families. We saw these brave students, often wearing their graduation caps and gowns, demanding recognition of their humanity even at the risk of arrest and deportation. The Obama administration saw this juncture as an opportunity to secure the Latin@ vote, which at the time was dwindling. When I learned about the new policy, I gave a breath of relief for my students that are undocumented.

But I also felt disgust. I felt as if Obama and the Democrats were holding our children hostage. "Vote for me, or we are coming after your kids." Not that the Obama administration and the Democratic party hasn't already deported many children. According to Colorlines.com there are more than 5100 children on foster care because their parents have been deported. And according to Presente.org, under Obama there have been "over 1,500,000 people have been deported since Jan. 1, 2009. At this rate President Obama will have deported more people in six years than all people deported before 1997." When Obama first ran for president, I thought of him as "el menos peor," I was wrong.

I think of DACA as a small boat filled with holes and carrying a few rats. Sure, if you are drowning at sea and there comes this crappy boat you are going to get on it. I would. And I also understand that once I were on it, I would need to fight like crazy to keep the thing afloat. Y cuidado con las ratas (they might be wearing suits, but they are dangerous).

We need to build a real and much bigger ship. Big enough to fit 11 million people. A floating island that safe (and not the Orwellian "Secure Communities" Obama has given us).  Our local politicians, especially Latino Democrats, need to take a clear stand. (I know, I know, he is a Democrat and he is black. Yes, so. He is also the president of the U.S.) Those of us who have the unearned privilege of being U.S. citizens, need to step it up. We can decide for ourselves what that means; I know there are many battles to fight.

Meanwhile, we should do all we can to get as many undocumented students to apply to DACA. That means donating to scholarships, finding legal aid, etc. (I hope we are not wrong here, I would feel like shit if the migra goes after our youth if no reform comes.)

The folks at Presente.org started a "Deportation Clock" (now at more than 1 million 600 thousand). Each of these numbers is a life, each and every one of them with his/her own story. I think about how any of these people could have been my mother. She came undocumented to this country so that I could be born a US citizen. She understood the privileges that I would receive for having this (fake) status. I did not earn this privilege. I also know that I can be an ally to the Dreamers, and that it is ultimately them who should decide on the goals, tactics and direction of their movement.

On another note, let's get our neighbors/friends/lovers to support real immigration reform. (I did not say "comprehensive," we already have excessive enforcement and don't need anymore.) The truth is that most U.S. citizens have a poor understanding of the root causes of Latin American migration. They blame the immigrants themselves, and have no sense of U.S. responsibility in the poverty and political instability in Latin America. But this is a topic for another column. For now, let me recommend as a starting point Juan Gonzalez's Harvest of Empire and Eduardo Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America. (Sorry, I'm a professor y me gusta dar tarea). Read them and then share what you learned con un(a) compa.

Agustín Palacios is currently Professor of La Raza Studies at Contra Costa College. He received his Ph.D. in Comparative Ethnic Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. His columns can be found at www.redandblack.florycanto.net

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