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EDITED & AMENDED
By Javier Rodriguez 19 Nov 2012 from Los Angeles
“It needs to be recognized that the reason comprehensive immigration reform did not come to be in these last four years, especially 2009, is first and foremost due to the fact that the people who elected Obama did not remain alert and united to build a large enough and consistent movement, to exert the necessary public pressure on congress and get the law approved.”
The presidential debates are over and it’s apparent that after an ill-starred first encounter with Republican Mitt Romney, the incumbent Barack Obama has made the expected comeback and the majority of the opinion makers and polls released since October 16 confirm it. The president came trough with flying colors in the last two encounters and with exactly 11 days left till election day, in the stretch, though close, Obama has regained momentum and is poised to be reelected for a second four year term.
For the thriving 50.3 million Latino population and several of the issues of grand importance to them in this campaign such as immigration, education, the economy, health care and women’s rights to name a few, it’s a reassuring new day. And their vote is crucial to defeat the ultra conservative wing of the Republican Party, especially in the battleground states. Though in the last three and a half years or so there have been some dark days, in contrast to many in the leadership of the immigrant rights movement and the media, from LA to New York, Latinos have been wisely swimming the waters, looking out for their interests as a people and as a class, and like its African American counterpart, to chagrin of the purists, it has stayed close to the democrats and to President Obama. As I mentioned in my last column, on November 6, the nation’s Latino electorate will probably surprise the country and give the incumbent a record breaking vote, totaling at around 80%.
Not long after Barack Obama was sworn in the criticism from the Latino quarter began to mount on his administration but it was really after his May 11, 2011 landmark speech on immigration in El Paso, Texas that the Latino media and Latino leaders, nationally, relentlessly intensified their criticism on the President. And it was primarily due to the highly emotional issue of immigration and the related issues of deportations, the hated federal ICE programs of E-Verify and 287g and the fact his administration did not come through on comprehensive immigration reform as he promised, even when democrats controlled both houses. But time has a way of coming at you with all its wisdom and what crystallized the puzzle was the face to face confrontation in the second campaign debate when tens of millions of people saw “Mitt Romney, the King without clothes.” There in full panoramic splendor, he repeated the gross anti immigrant positions that he had been espousing throughout the Republican primary and that since the Republican Convention, he had been hiding, or as pundits call it, softening them: no amnesty, which meant no legalization; no Dream Act for the 1.8 million undocumented youth, only the military part; Will not renew Obama’s two year renewable deferred action; Will strengthen E-Verify; push for self deportation; once again lauded the Arizona Law as a model for the nation; An emphatic “no drivers licenses for the undocumented,” and on and on. And President Obama masterfully called him on most of the points and on the fact that the Governor was for fomenting “the miserable conditions on immigrants so they would self deport, including the dreamers.”
A group of Latino social activists organized and collectively saw the second debate at the large landmark “Hecho en Mexico Restaurant” in Los Angeles. With a full house and a good number of media present, trust me, the long exchange on immigration was the most time this issue has ever gotten in a debate since the 1984 democratic primary. It was a charged emotional moment and more so because the president demolished Romney’s reactionary and despotic vision on immigration. Unequivocally, for Latino leaders and the media this was a bonanza. Since then, like night and day, though with some exceptions, Latino columnists, in Spanish or English, have finally taken on the Republicans head on and in the same pieces are lauding the president. An example is Maribel Hastings, a former Washington correspondent for La Opinion and now an Executive Advisor for America’s Voice, a beltway think tank, on October 18 published an eloquent piece sarcastically titled “Romney the Cynic in Chief.” In it, with surgical precision, she destroys Romney’s positions and for the first time ever, that I can recall, presented the president’s arguments favorably. But judge for yourselves, here’s her opening shot, “When finally the issue of immigration made its appearance in a presidential debate, the Republican contender Mitt Romney honored his title as “the Cynic in Chief” when he maintained his posture of criticizing President Barack Obama for not concretizing a comprehensive immigration reform, that neither he nor the Republicans support/Cuando por fin el tema migratorio hizo su aparición en un debate presidencial, el contendiente republicano Mitt Romney le hizo honor a su título de cínico en jefe al mantener su postura de criticar al presidente Barack Obama porque no se concretara una reforma migratoria integral que ni Romney ni los republicanos apoyan. La Opinion Oct 18, 2012 My translation.
For four years the Republicans have displayed a strategy of total obstruction, read sabotage, in Congress against any and all of the president’s efforts to advance a social agenda, including the thorny issue of immigration. And hypocritically -as Romney did in this debate- accusing him of “not coming through on his promises to Latinos.” By now, it should be sparking clear to all media and immigrant rights leaders that it has been the Republicans all along, the ultra conservative faction of this country’s political class, that has sabotaged, yes sabotaged progress on immigration legislation in congress, and this includes voting down the Dream Act of 2010. This, while their counterparts on a state and municipal level successfully passed draconian legislation against broad layers of the immigrant population, and paradoxically in this period, with some exceptions, “they got a free ride from Latino critics” however Obama was blaringly criticized at every opportunity, again and again.
And the president saw this all along but didn’t understand it. In early 2010 in Los Angeles I had a private meeting with Angelica Salas of CHIRLA fame. We both had just arrived from being at the highly successful 200,000 people Immigrant March on Washington held on March 21. The program featured President Obama as a speaker on video, a historic first in the long trail of immigrant struggle since 1968, and Angelica, along with Ali Noorani served as the MC for that historic event at the capitol. As a backdrop, the SB-1070 Arizona anti immigrant legislation had made its appearance and May 1st was only a month away and the LA organizations were on the move. That morning meeting at Phillipe’s Deli was about concerting unity in the LA May 1st Coalition but in the flow of the conversation, Salas confided in me the story of a meeting at the White House days before the capital march for “a discussion about placing immigration reform on the congressional agenda.” Present was a numerous sector of national immigrant rights figures, her included, and the president, his staff and several key federal politicians. Surprisingly, she was approached by the president who expressed his concern that it was “only the democrats are being harshly and continuously criticized publicly while the Republicans are hardly touched.”
It’s difficult to point the exact moment when this trend against the president began its course, but what I can attest to is the indisputable fact that the tendency was played up, exacerbated by the right wing national Latino networks, Univision and Telemundo, in particular their news departments. The two powerhouses have controlled 95% of the Latino market in all the major cities in the US and for decades, their national news programs and all their US based talk shows have also been produced out of Miami, their home base. Unfortunately since 1959 the State of Florida is also home to the extreme right wing Cuban exile community, known for its ties to the Republican Party and the CIA. Historically, this sector, which also includes a good number of well known government protected terrorists in its ranks, has exerted a heavy dose of hard line conservative influence over the majority of private media venues, meaning television, radio and newspapers. Consequently, this has negatively affected the balance of published information as well as the principles of bourgeois journalistic impartiality, especially on themes relating to the growing block of Latin American progressive governments, of course national elections and more.
The trend was glaringly obvious in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 presidential elections and you can attach 2012, which however incredible, this one actually began in 2009, the same year the republicans began implementing the politics of political obstructionism against the first ever African American president. Coincidentally, the time frame and the goals are comparable to the ones Mexico’s Televisa also implemented in Mexico -2005 to 2012- in favor of president elect Enrique Pena Nieto of the PRI and against the left candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Televisa is the largest Spanish language TV conglomerate in the globe, who also owns 12% of Univision’s stock and early this year, injected a reported $5 billion to the American giant, which ironically Televisa founded in 1961 as Spanish International Network.
To understand Univision’s political inclinations, as a comparative, think “Fox News Light” with a majority guest list of right wing Latino zealot commentators, mostly Cubans, which includes the sinister Otto Reich, Ileana Ros Lehtinen, chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Diaz Balart Brothers, Fidel Castro’s right wing cousins. Not surprising, as with most conservative media conglomerates, the news staff is closely monitored and new hires have to display the “right” mask and tow the line. In Los Angeles we have seen the corporate hatchet in action. In April 2006, LA Univision issued an alert letter with instructions to all staff in the region to “black out all stories relating to the National May 1st Great American Boycott- A Day Without an Immigrant.” On that day millions of immigrants successfully boycotted work and closed over twenty industries in California, as well as tens of thousands of businesses and schools. Sometime in 2007, Socorro Cruz, a former undocumented journalist with 12 years in the company as a field reporter, news anchor and I believe a national correspondent for Primer Impacto was unexpectedly let go. The suspected corporate motive was her refusal to abide by the undignified instructions. The same fate was suffered by our friend Univision Radio Programmer Gerado Lorenz who on that May Day gave a dramatic passionate speech which on the following day was highlighted on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now.
In retrospect, it’s important to acknowledge that upon taking office in January 2009, Obama did make the overtures and convened a bi-partisan meeting to discuss comprehensive immigration reform, but the republicans, who by then had begun their strategy of no cooperation with the White House and the Democratic party, were missing in action, they did not show. But on November 6, a democratic sweep of the White House and congress and republicans faced with an overwhelming and decisive Latino vote against their party, most likely the conservatives will have to change gears and adjust their plans to include a resolution on the immigration issue with the democrats, amongst other issues.
According to Pilar Marrero of La Opinion, in a recent off the record telephone interview of the president with an IOWA newspaper, which was published anyway, Obama stated and I quote, “I have confidence that next year we will pass immigration reform,” and he added, “If I win a second term, the victory will be due in part because the republican candidate and the republican party succeeded in alienating the fastest growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.”
Lastly before ending this analysis, I am including excerpts from the El Paso speech for emphasis and provide a window for all that to see that there have been genuine moves made by the president on immigration. The speech marked the White House campaign kick off to place the issue on the national agenda and it was obvious then, he knew the opposition was sabotaging the work.
- “ …. So one way to strengthen the middle class in America is to reform the immigration system so that there is no longer a massive underground economy that exploits a cheap source of labor while depressing wages for everybody else. I want incomes for middle-class families to rise again. (Applause.) I want prosperity in this country to be widely shared. (Applause.) I want everybody to be able to reach that American dream. And that’s why immigration reform is an economic imperative. It’s an economic imperative. (Applause.)
- And “….here’s the point. I want everybody to listen carefully to this. We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement. All the stuff they asked for, we’ve done. But even though we’ve answered these concerns, I’ve got to say I suspect there are still going to be some who are trying to move the goal posts on us one more time.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER: They’re racist!
- THE PRESIDENT: You know, they said we needed to triple the Border Patrol. Or now they’re going to say we need to quadruple the Border Patrol. Or they’ll want a higher fence. Maybe they’ll need a moat. (Laughter.) Maybe they want alligators in the moat. (Laughter.) They’ll never be satisfied. And I understand that. That’s politics. But this change ultimately has to be driven by you, the American people. You’ve got to help push for comprehensive reform, and you’ve got to identify what steps we can take right now — like the DREAM Act, like visa reform — areas where we can find common ground among Democrats and Republicans and begin to fix what’s broken.
So I’m asking you to add your voices to this debate. You can sign up to help at whitehouse.gov. We need Washington to know that there is a movement for reform that’s gathering strength from coast to coast.
It’s a no brainer, during the Great Depression of the thirties, Franklin Delano Roosevelt made similar calls asking for help. The principal message President Obama conveyed to the nation on that day, which translated means to unify and broaden the immigrant rights movement, be on the alert and place and maintain the pressure on Washington. This is one of the lessons arising from the undocumented dreamers. At the moment they began the successful campaign for an executive administrative order, they understood “Obama was -and is- sensitive to the plight of the undocumented immigrant.” Sympathetic is the term they used. In other words they didn’t see him as an enemy but rather as the political force with the power to issue the executive order that is now the umbrella protecting over a million youth against deportation.
If Barack Obama is reelected and as expected the Republicans lose the house majority, the correlation of forces will gravitate and they will favor the administration, and us, and he will be in the best position to advance a Latino agenda and a general social legislative agenda for jobs, women, for youth and children, secure and consolidate health reform, end the war in Afghanistan and more. In this context, May 1st is now approximately 6 months away and once again, in order to fill the streets of downtown LA and call and pressure for the promised land of immigration reform, the Dream Act and the overhaul of the outdated and broken immigration system in America, it is imperative “to recognize that the reason comprehensive immigration reform did not come to be in these last four years, especially 2009, is first and foremost due to the fact that the people who elected Obama did not remain alert and united to build a large enough and consistent movement, to exert the necessary public pressure on congress and get the law approved.”
It is also imperative that the present leadership not fall or continue in the trap of sectarian and factional personal and organizational gain and once again divide the movement in LA just as it was done in 2009, disgustingly leaving the 11 million undocumented immigrants, their families, their 4.6 million US born children and the 2.5 million citizen spouses to the cold mercy of ICE and deportations. Mas claro no canta un gallo, ZAZ
Javier Rodriguez is an independent journalist and a media and political strategist. He recently completed his third trip thru Mexico, observing and writing about the country’s political process, the aftermath of a highly questioned presidential election, the drug war and migrants. A long time social activist, he was the initiator and directed the making of the 1.7 million historical immigration march in Los Angeles on March 25, 2006 as well as the May 1st 2006 Great American Boycott. Blog Larayueladejavier.wordpress.com email@example.com.