President Obama’s mixed record on immigration includes deporting nearly three million people while seeking protections for some categories of undocumented immigrants, a move just obstructed by federal courts, writes Dennis J Bernstein.
By Dennis J Bernstein
The recent U.S. Supreme Court’s 4-4 split decision on whether President Obama has the power to implement immigration changes through executive action leaves in place a lower court’s injunction against those policies and leaves tens of thousands of so-called Dreamers and their families in a legal limbo.
The Supreme Court’s June 23 decision put an indefinite hold on the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program known as (DACA) as well as the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA).
In June 2012, Obama announced DACA, which declared that that certain children who arrived in the U.S. prior to turning 16 years of age would no longer be a priority for deportation. Obama announced DAPA in November 2014, allowing certain parents to be granted deferred action for a period of three years and to be eligible for work authorization papers.
Though Obama’s initiatives were welcomed by many of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants – and much of the blame for the absence of more permanent reforms rests with Congress – the President has come in for sharp criticism for deporting nearly three million people.
Flashpoints radio host Dennis J Bernstein interviewed Jesus Guzman, program director at the Graton Day Labor Center in Northern California’s wine country, to get a human perspective on the political and legal machinations in Washington.
The Graton Center is among the first of its kind in the country, working to represent day laborers and domestic workers and seeking to guarantee them $15-an-hour minimum wage.
Guzman is also a state representative of the Dreamers and is undocumented. Guzman went to Washington in 2012 to be with Obama in the White House when DACA was announced, and was also at Stanford last week to protest Obama’s deportation actions, which have earned Obama the title of Deporter-in-Chief.
DB: Jesus Guzman, you were at Stanford recently to greet Barack Obama there. Why were you at Stanford and what happened there?
JG: It was a joint action with the Graton Day Labor Center and the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON), and the Immigrant Youth Coalition, and was a response to the woefully inadequate reaction of the President to the Supreme Court’s decision on DAPA and DACA. His response was to weakly lament that the decision was made, then he doubled-down on the enforcement of the deportation policies which we are calling (on him) to end – the Priority Enforcement Program [PEP]. We are saying that if the Supreme Court is not going to stand up and defend our families and extend DOPA and DAPA to stop the deportations, the President has the power to do that.
Instead he is pushing the PEP program, which turns sheriffs into de facto deportation agents. He has six months to end that – he has the power. He can’t just say it’s too bad about the Supreme Court decision and continue with the deportation policies. We are calling for him to end them. At Stanford, we were calling to his attention that our communities and others in this country hold him accountable and he cannot just pass the buck to the Supreme Court.
DB: It was a very vocal protest, with attempts to interrupt the President. Why did you think it was important to do this in the face of the President?
JG: He was attending an entrepreneur summit at Stanford. We were there as immigrant youth and day laborers, speaking out. The youth were taking the lead, initially with civil disobedience, then the distraction to be sure that our presence was felt – to be sure they hear what is going on in our community. The President can go around the country and do his last goodbye tour and count up the accolades for the accomplishments he likes to claim he’s had in presidency, but we need to remind him that he has the power to change the deportation policy. It’s getting close to three million deportations during his presidency. That is no kind of legacy he should be proud of as part of his presidency. He still has time to turn this around and use his power wisely to protect those in our communities who are the most vulnerable. It was important for us to speak out so he hears from us about what he can do at the end of his presidency.
DB: You are undocumented. This policy has caused great suffering. Can you put a human face on it? How does the President’s weak-kneed reaction to the Supreme Court decision impact you and some of the dreamers you are working with?
JG: We estimate six million undocumented folks would benefit from this program. That would include my mom and dad who have both been here over 20 years. They did everything possible to give me a better opportunity in life. The privilege I have now of a work permit is through the original DACA. I can think of folks who deserve the same benefit as much as my parents. Many of the folks I work with are day laborers, domestic workers and folks who have been labeled by the President as criminals and gang bangers and other derogatory terms that are not true. Folks are coming and trying to provide for their families back home and to have a chance for a better life here. It is criminal to call us criminals when there are all these instances of wage theft, unsafe working conditions, and retaliation against workers trying to provide a better life.
It has a tremendous impact on our families to have a work permit to work legally, but it goes beyond that. My mom talks about wanting to see her mom, my grandmother, who she hasn’t seen in many, many years and who has been very ill for the last few years. It would mean the world to her to see her mother. The millions of folks affected all have an individual story of how these programs would benefit them. We know it’s the right thing to do, and the President knows it’s the right thing to do. We are calling on him to do the right thing and to use his power wisely during these last six months of office.
DB: Remind us of what DACA and DOPA meant. What are the remedies?
JG: The original DACA is the federal program that would extend the work permit. It meant we are not a priority for deportation so we can have work permits and social security cards. It includes the opportunity under a provision of the program called advance to visit a home country or leave the U.S. under certain specific circumstances. It was meant for youth who came here at a young age like myself – I was one-year old and have been here ever since. DAPA was meant for parents who have U.S. citizen born children or who are legally here. It was meant for parents – taking the premise of DACA and expanding it for parents of U.S.-born children. Even if DACA or DAPA were extended, it still wouldn’t cover everybody. We are still looking to push for protection for all undocumented families, but it would have been a huge benefit, a huge step forward for so many of our families who are at risk.
It is even more worrisome when the President says he is continuing with these enforcement policies, not only for the folks undocumented here for a number of years, but also the Central American families and refugees who have been coming to the U.S. for safety. This administration is not looking at the humanity of so many of our brothers and sisters who are coming to the U.S. and need our protection, and instead are turning them away. We are calling upon the President to extend the temporary protection status to the Central American brother and sister refugees who are coming and need a hand.
DB: This stepped-up deportation policy is in the hands of Homeland Security, so it’s put in the context of national security risk. They act as if it’s not a humanitarian situation, but one dealing with terrorists. What is your response to it being described as terrorism and not human rights?
JG: It’s not unlike what we saw recently with the Congressional Democrats conducting a sit-in in the House. At first blush, no fly/no buy sounds good. Who would want guns in the hand of terrorists? But people need to look deeper into it. There is a “terror watch list” of people who can’t fly, but the list is very xenophobic and unfairly targets Muslims. It’s a list that doesn’t have much oversight and is born out of a very nationalistic, xenophobic perception of our Muslim brothers and sisters who are unfairly targeted.
Some of these policies that the Department of Homeland Security are pushing are similar to what’s happening in England and other parts of the world, where the far-right very nationalistic, xenophobic reaction to immigrants is ugly. We are seeing them implemented in these policies. Central American refugees are refugees who need to be seen through a humanitarian lens, not through some ”terror” lens. It’s missing the needs of these folks that we need to protect and help. It’s a reflection of a far-right nationalism and xenophobia that is on the rise and that we need to be combating.
DB: Do you think that Trump and his anti-immigrant policies have made it worse than Hillary Clinton’s policies as the Secretary of State, like supporting or sustaining of dictatorships in Honduras and elsewhere? How do you see that on the policy level?
JG: It would be easy to point to Trump and say he’s the bogeyman. Trump has had an effect of localizing some of this far-right extremism. But we can’t look past Democrats who have also been contributing to this. It’s both sides of the aisle. With Hillary Clinton, we only need to look at when she was asked about her stance on the plight of refugees coming from Central America – she was in support of sending many families back to Central America.
DB: She also lectured parents about jeopardizing their children’s safety by allowing them to immigrate, because it’s so dangerous. Of course, it’s dangerous to stay as well.
JG: The last thing we need is to be lectured about our own fight in our community. What we need for our brothers and sisters is some sorts of asylum, protection – not have people incarcerated for leaving the horrific conditions in Central America. There is plenty of blame to go around for both parties.
DB: You were at the White House, with the President when the Dreamer DOCA was just announced. If you could have a sit down with the President now, what would you tell him?
JG: I don’t think I’d do it. I’d have my mom sit down and talk with him about what this would mean to her and my dad and why it’s important. I’ve said my piece. We are doing this work with day laborers and immigrant youth. I have some privilege from my work permit now. He needs to hear from those most affected by these policies. Even though what happens to my mom and dad affects me, it’s best that he hear from them.