The 2014 story of the year: Immigration
In 2014, for a Latino news media organization — and particularly one in the Philadelphia area — there could be no more significant news story, or collective of stories, than immigration.
In January of 2014, President Obama’s new secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, took over the department which had long incurred the wrath of immigration reform advocates and activists thanks to an unprecedented deportation rate that split up families and disproportionally impacted longtime residents with no criminal backgrounds. Early in March Johnson was charged with reviewing the administration’s deportation policies.
Also in March, after an uncomfortable White House meeting between immigration advocates and the President, in which Obama famously “chided” advocates for their criticism of his administration’s policies, the venerable National Council of la Raza, the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization, followed the lead of more activist organizations and publicly named President Barack Obama the “deporter in chief.” Obama and some organizations with strong ties to the Democratic party tried to push back by redirecting that “title” to Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, but they were largely unsuccessful in diverting the mounting frustration directed specifically at the administration.
In April, in Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter signed an executive order saying that local police would no longer cooperate with ICE in holding those suspected of being undocumented immigrants without a warrant to do so.
In June, the influx of unaccompanied minors (from the most violence-ridden countries in Central America) apprehended and held at the border reached a crisis point. While the United Nations and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops urged the administration to treat the wave of undocumented immigrants — most of them between 3 and 16 years old — as refugees, legislators urged expedited deportation.
In June, Obama announced he’d take executive action on immigration sometime before the end of summer if the House didn't pass some sort of immigration bill, meanwhile, across the nation, anti-immigrant sentiment spiked, and from California to Michigan people rallied to keep unaccompanied minors from being temporarily placed in facilities in their communities. Boehner told Obama and the rest of the nation that the House immigration bill, long stalled, was in effect dead.
Meantime, in Philadelphia in July, Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky railed against the Nutter administration’s policy about ICE holds, characterizing it as a welcome to “felons.” When an AL DÍA editorial called into question his (and the Daily News’ and Philly.com’s) decision to break with Associated Press style to repeatedly refer to undocumented immigrants as “illegal immigrants” and anyone advocating for them by the pointedly coined word “illegalistas,” Bykofsky (and a number of his readers) responded acrimoniously. There was a bit of a back and forth between Bykofsky and AL DÍA for a couple of weeks (in August) that reflected the increasingly hostile back and forth about the unaccompanied minors playing out on the national stage.
The accelerated deportation rate continued unchanged under Johnson’s administration of the DHS, and the criticisms levied at Obama by immigration advocates remained unchanged as well, especially as the end of summer came and went without any executive action to offer relief from deportations.
In September, Obama announced he would be delaying taking any executive action until after the midterm elections. Both Republicans and immigration reform advocates decried the move amid accusations that delay was intended to help certain Democratic incumbents in contested races. Immigration activists responded by encouraging Latino voters to withhold their votes from the Democratic candidates in question. This widened a gulf between legislatively focused immigration reform advocates and more activist and civil disobedience-focused groups — a rift that had first made itself manifest at the end of 2013, when Rep. Luis Gutierrez broke off any association with NIYA and Dreamactivist.
The Democrats Obama sought to protect by deferring an executive action were roundly defeated, and enough Republicans elected to gain a majority in the Senate. In response to unabated deportations and the longstanding Republican antipathy to passing any kind of immigration reform legislation, in September churches across the nation announced that they would be offering sanctuary to undocumented immigrants with final deportation orders.
In Philadelphia, in October, the advocacy organization Juntos announced that it was in possession of documents alleging that the city’s restrictions on collaboration with ICE holds were being ignored. And in November, a Philadelphia resident, Angela Navarro, with the aid of the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, entered into sanctuary at West Kensington Ministry.
A few days after Navarro entered sanctuary, Obama issued an executive action on immigration that may provide deportation relief to an estimated 5 million undocumented immigrants — those who have U.S. citizen or permanent resident (“green card holding”) children, have been here more than five years, and can pass criminal background checks and pay fines and back taxes. Of all the non-cable television networks, only Univision interrupted its regular programming to broadcast the president’s announcement, thereby confirming that the most important news story of the year for U.S. Latinos didn’t warrant interrupting mid-season finales for TV shows like The Biggest Loser and Grey’s Anatomy.
In December, 20 states announced they’d be filing suit against Obama for the proposed executive action on immigration, and so we enter into 2015 without knowing whether what little progress has been made on an issue that has devastated Latino communities across the nation will survive into its implementation stage.
Our photo of the year by AL DÍA News’ Samantha Madera (above and on the cover of our print edition on Thursday) is representative of the desperation of those facing deportation, the community-led promise of support and sanctuary, and the hope Obama’s contested executive action provides. In it, Angela Navarro and her U.S.-citizen husband Ermer Fernandez hold each other as they listen to Obama announcing his executive action Nov. 20. Behind them, in the West Kensington Ministry room where the television is set, are the family and community members who have been part of their fight keep their family of three U.S. citizens and one undocumented immigrant together in safety. They stare into a future that (like the news story of the year) is uncertain but holds the glimmer of hope.