Above: CSU Bakersfield professor and immigrant rights activist, Dr. Gonzalo Santos. // photo: South Kern Sol
Editor’s Note: President Obama’s recent decision to delay executive action on immigration until after the November elections disappointed many immigrants and rights activists. Some Latino leaders, however, have chosen to stand by the President’s decision. In the below commentary, Dr. Gonzalo Santos, a professor at Cal State University Bakersfield and an immigrant rights activist, reacts to statements made by civil rights leader Dolores Huerta in a recently published article on VOXXI.com. In the article, Huerta explains why she supports Obama’s decision to delay action, and calls on immigrants and advocates to exercise patience.
Sometimes, it is impossible to stay silent regarding one’s own friends. This is one such time. As someone who is involved in the Immigrant Rights Movement (IRM) in Bakersfield, California, where Ms. Dolores Huerta lives, too, I am highly disappointed and profoundly disagree with her decision to lend her public support for the decision by President Obama to delay taking executive action to bring urgently-needed administrative relief to the millions of immigrants who live in fear and continue to be deported at a rate of a thousand a day by his administration – breaking his promise that he would act by now, as he has several times before.
It has been appalling to watch the president pursue, over the past six years, the immoral, relentless, and cruel strategy of deporting over two million migrants caught in a dysfunctional system, in the vain hope of currying favor with the ever-more recalcitrant, xenophobic Republicans. And when it became obvious he had failed and had to act on his own, and promised to do so, it is unconscionable for the president to have succumbed to the panicky, unprincipled politicians from his own party, delayed action again while still deporting people, and in so doing betrayed the trust of our immigrant and Latino/Asian communities. These are the same communities who have patiently stood by him through thick and thin, despite his string of broken promises and lack of political courage, going back to when he took office in 2009.
It is sheer political opportunism for him – or any other Democrat, including Ms. Huerta – to place their party’s immediate electoral interests ahead of our community’s urgent needs, and then try to spin it by counseling for more “patience” (!), “having faith in the president (!!),” or conjuring up false dangers, such as what would happen if the Republicans end up in control of the Senate.
Apart from the fact that this might happen anyway – in no small part due to the disillusionment of the Democratic Party’s base for its failure to stand up to the Republicans on so many issues – if the GOP ends up in control of the Senate by a small margin, the president can veto any bill it and the House pass that attacks immigrant rights, women rights, etc. Yes, Obama will have a harder time getting congressional cooperation, but he hasn’t gotten any in the House on immigration reform, equal pay, etc, over the past 6 years anyway. Bi-cameral non-cooperation adds up to the same result that just one-chamber non-cooperation has yielded so far: no bill ever becomes law. (When the Democrats controlled both chambers in 2009-10, by the way, they did nothing on immigration, either; and during the Bush II years, stubborn opposition to a just and lasting immigration reform was robustly bipartisan.)
So it’s a specious argument that Ms. Huerta uses to, in effect, excuse and give political cover to the president, sadly more out of her well-known partisan loyalty than any honest concern for the ever-dimmer prospects of immigration reform and other needed reforms. Truth is, this president should have acted years ago, and those that have consistently made excuses for his executive inaction and lack of political courage while “waiting for Godot” – and even pleaded for him to delay taking action, as some did last June, to their everlasting shame — or those who only criticize and denounce the Republicans while studiously remaining silent on the Democrats, have not been helpful to our immigrant cause nor to our community.
The price to pay by our Latino elected and community leaders for putting party politics ahead of social justice and defending the community is the loss of credibility and legitimacy, which is too bad for someone of the stature of Ms. Huerta and other prominent Latino leaders who have, for far too long, been abjectly apologizing for Mr. Obama’s, and his party’s, failing record on a long list of issues. It’s time they realized this, and began fighting not just the Republicans, for their anti-immigrant and anti-Latino phobias and hateful attacks – which we all must — but the Democrats as well, for their proven opportunism, their constant neglect of our community’s demands, and their repeated broken promises and betrayals.
Not for nothing when I became a citizen last year I registered as an Independent; and today, I advise everyone else to do the same. In the upcoming elections, I certainly intend to vote and encourage everyone else to register and vote, too. There are important propositions and candidates that have earned our support. But I do not intend to vote for any Democrat that has not directly and publicly challenged Obama on his appalling record of massive deportations and broken promises. Neither should you! Until we see deeds – not hear promises – we should not support, let alone have faith and trust, in this president, or any other elected leader or candidate. I say, enough being taken for granted, people!