NCLR to Obama: Act Now, or Own ‘Deporter in Chief’ Legacy

a_dia_deporter_500x279The National Council of La Raza’s leader, Janet Murguía, called on President Obama to stop “turning a blind eye to the harm being done” by the record number of deportations that have taken place during his tenure. In a March 4 speech at NCLR’s annual Capital Awards, Murguía said, “We respectfully disagree with the president on his ability to stop unnecessary deportations. He can stop tearing families apart. He can stop throwing communities and businesses into chaos (…) He does have the power to stop this. Failure to act will be a shameful legacy for his presidency.”

With nearly 2 million deportations under his belt, the president has long been criticized for a policy that is considered indiscriminate and punitive by immigration advocates and indeed, by Latinos in general. A Pew report from 2012 notes that nearly a quarter of all Latinos in the nation personally know someone who has been deported. “LOVE that @JMurgia_NCLR is calling out @BarackObama for being “Deporter-In-Chief,’” tweeted Yvette Núñez, who works at a Philadelphia nonprofit that serves and advocates for Latino communities.

Murguía’s comments have drawn an enormous amount of attention, in part because NCLR has been very circumspect about criticizing Obama in the past. In fact, a number of immigration advocates and Latino web sites were at pains to note that NCLR was late to the game. Adriana Maestas, of @LatinoPolitics, tweeted: “ I would love to know what took @NCLR so long to arrive at that conclusion, when @PresenteOrg have been saying it for abt 2 + yrs.” Even longer than that, says a self-described “deported Dreamer” who is now a graduate school student in England: “How progressive are you when you wait 6 years and 2 million deportations to take a stand? @NCLR”

But other reactions to the NCLR statement reflect a nation deeply divided about the steadily rising number of deportations — which hit record number of 419, 384 in the 2012 fiscal year — according to a Pew report released Feb 27, 2014. According to the report, 45 percent of the public believes the increased number of deportations is a good thing and are evenly matched by the 45 percent who believe it is a bad thing. Nine percent of the public doesn’t know if it is good or bad.

Further, the Pew report shows that while 60 percent of Latinos believe the increased deportation numbers are bad; only 48 percent of African-Americans and 42 percent of whites agree. This view found reflection in some of what was tweeted by the general non-Latino public in response to the NCLR comments. “Don’t like deportations? Don’t come here illegally in the first place. Problem solved,” tweeted Robin Murphy. Rae Diallo, meanwhile, directed her accusatory tweet at Murguía: “Are you in the country illegally, Janet?”

Obama’s wrongheaded approach to deportations (and that of the 45 percent of the public who think more deportations are better) is facilitated by thinking only in terms of numbers rather than actual human beings whose treatment — irrespective of documentation status — during raids, in detention and deportation is deeply traumatic and damaging. At a recent Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma workshop in Philadelphia, experts from the mental health professions outlined the long-term effects of trauma — including psychological distress due to stigmatization and harassment, as well as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder — that not only manifest in those deported, but also in their U.S. citizen family members, particularly young children, left behind or dumped into the foster-care system.

Most people are not so naive to believe the answer to the human and civil rights concerns surrounding any aspects of immigration reform or enforcement can be fit in the 140 characters of a tweet. Nor does the complex Latino thinking on comprehensive immigration reform fully fit in Murguía’s speech.

But, timing notwithstanding, NCLR’s wake-up call to the president is also a wake-up call to politicians focusing now on the next election. Murguía: “Our message to policy makers & everyone else will be clear: our community will determine when the (immigration) debate is over.”

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