News from Washington July 2022

Health Care July 2022 PREMIUM
Now ten years and three presidents later, Congress never passed a law giving legal status to DACA recipients (now about 600,000) and DREAMERs (over 2 million).

DACA at 10 years old: Why it still hasn’t (and won’t) become law in its current form

In May 2011, the publishers of the Hispanic Outlook,  some 10,000 members of La Raza (now called Unidos) and I witnessed President Barack Obama at DC’s Omni Shorham Hotel say “I can’t do it” (NO se puede) to hundreds of students chanting “legalize the Dreamers.” “Only Congress can change immigration laws,” he said. Fast forward one year later and Obama’s poll numbers for his second term are falling. Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) threatened that Latino legislators would not contribute to Obama’s campaign if he didn’t legalize the over 12 million immigrants currently living and working illegally in the country – most of whom were from Mexico. So in June 2012, Obama suddenly announced he had issued an executive memo to his Secretary of Homeland Security - Janet Napolitano – to immediately operationalize a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA would grant some 900,000 unauthorized immigrants, who applied individually, a two-year deferment from deportation and a two-year work permit. DACA was a popular move – even among many Republicans. Everyone assumed that when Obama was elected president for a second term, DACA would become a law. Well, Obama was, and DACA wasn’t.

Now ten years and three presidents later, Congress never passed a law giving legal status to DACA recipients (now about 600,000) and DREAMERs (over 2 million). Their immigration status is still not regularized, even though some have graduated from college. Why not? Three reasons: 1) DACA has been hyped way beyond all original intent, 2) It has been conflated with DREAMERS and is too big, and 3) It has failed its political mission to be a bait and switch for comprehensive immigration reform.

The spin begins with the definition of a DACA recipient. The unquestioned narrative everywhere is of a young immigrant who was brought into the U.S. at a very young age illegally by their parents, knows no other country and dreams of becoming a doctor. But the ten-word definition in the three-page DACA order is very different. It’s anyone who “came into the United States before the age of 16”. Further qualifications are they have to have been here five years and under the age of 30 to apply, have graduated from high school or the equivalent, and applied for college. There are no requirements to know English. The majority of the media and advocates don’t even get the principal verb right: it’s came in – not brought in. There is no mention of being “brought in” “by parents” (or anyone else), and nothing about coming in illegally. In fact, many DACA recipients came in legally on tourist, student, or temporary dependent permits, then as adults knowingly decided to overstay their visas, become “illegal immigrants” and then applied to DACA with the expectation that they would be given a green card.

The narrative of DACA has expanded over the years to include the parents and siblings of DACA recipients, and even those who were deported. DACA (and DREAMERS) have been added to every comprehensive immigration reform demand. Stand-alone bills have all failed. Gutierrez stated in a July 23, 2013, hearing on the Republican “Kids Act” (a DREAMER stand alone proposal) – that it was un-American to legalize some of the undocumented community and not all. DACA advocates have always seen DREAMERs as a sympathetic bait and switch for comprehensive immigration reform.

Most Americans are very sympathetic to the idea that illegal immigrants who were brought into the country illegally by their parents at an early age (before 13 years old) and attended American schools in the country for at least eight years before being accepted into college, should be eligible to apply for a green card. Narrow legislation allowing that would set the example to start immigration reform with small acceptable pieces that, if successful, can lead to larger pieces. Like gun control, many political strategists believe the only way to achieve comprehensive immigration reform – which is expected to be a big issue in the 2024 presidential race -- is through compromise and piecemeal laws.

Hispanic Voters Befuddling the Pundits

Two congressional primary races between progressive and moderate Latinos in Texas are befuddling media pundits and political strategists who assume Latinos vote as a liberal Democratic bloc. Out of 45,429 ballots counted in the May 24 primary election for the 28th district, incumbent and centrist-leaning Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (the only Democrat in the House that is openly pro-life on the abortion issue) was leading progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros by 187 votes, or 0.4 percentage points. She demanded a recount that, at the time of publication, is still underway. It is not clear when the recount will be finished but it is usual that the leader in such tight races usually gains a few votes and wins officially.

In the meantime, a conservative Hispanic Republican, Mayra Flores – a former immigrant from Mexico and the wife of a U.S. Border Patrol agent - flipped a Democratic congressional seat in a special election on June 14 in a heavily Hispanic district in Texas.  Flores handily beat Democrat Dan Sanchez in Texas 34th Congressional District. She will face a different demographic in the November midterm elections when the redrawn district faces incumbent Democrat Vicente Gonzalez Jr., current representative for the neighboring 15th Congressional District and is not expected to win. But her unexpected big win in the primary indicates a growing, visible shift of Latino voters towards the Republican party nationwide; this has shaken up Democratic pundits and strategists.

Museum of the American Latino Opens as a Gallery at  the Smithsonian

After almost seven years of planning, the first stage of what is expected to be a major museum of the American Latino opened on June 18 as a premiere gallery on the first floor of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History on Constitution Avenue in Washington DC. The first exhibition in the Molina Family Latino Gallery displays U.S. history from the perspectives of the diverse Latinas and Latinos who lived it by revealing – through multi-sensory interactive exhibits - hidden and forgotten stories of Latino culture in the United States. The exhibit will be rotated in about two years, and lays the foundation for understanding how Latinas and Latinos inform and shape U.S. history, according to museum officials.  •

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