Operation Lame Duck: How the Democratic Party is throwing immigrants under the bus
Yesterday, in an by-invitation-only meeting, Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison announced to a stunned gathering of immigration advocates that the city will be rolling back its 18-month-old executive order and reinstating local law enforcement collaboration with ICE agents (to detain those who are suspected of being undocumented immigrants beyond normal police processing). Politically motivated? You bet.
Let me unpack it for you.
Lame duck Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has Gillison be the bearer of bad news to immigrant community. Sorry, Gillison says, but this is at the behest of Jeh Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security for lame duck President Barack Obama. What's more, Gillison tells the folks from Juntos, One Love, New Sanctuary Movement, etc. gathered at the private meeting, there will be no public input into this, it is a done deal.
So why now? Why from a lame duck mayor who at the signing the executive order said ICE holds had been used far too aggressively and therefore discouraged undocumented victims of crimes from reporting them, and sowed an atmosphere of constant fear? Why from Nutter, who as recently as Sept. 17 told the Mexican immigrant community gathered at Penn's Landing: “However you arrived here, you are here now. It is our responsibility in the United States of America to provide a pathway for those who may not have all of the paperwork in place.”
Furthermore, in April, Nutter was one of a number of mayors who filed a legal brief in support of President Obama's proposed executive action on immigration. "Local officials witness every day the contributions that immigrants make to their neighborhoods and communities, as well as the harms that result from keeping long-time residents of those neighborhoods and communities in the shadows due to their immigration status. Amici also see and must address the harms to families and children that an ongoing threat of deportation produces. A great number of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States have lived in amici’s cities and counties for a decade or more ... The Executive Action recognizes a reality that amici have long known: communities are safer, economically stronger, and better places to live when undocumented immigrants who have substantial and longstanding ties to their communities and who pose no threat to public safety are able to come out of the shadows, engage more fully in civil society, better contribute to the economic growth of their communities, and interact with government officials without fear."
The answer to the why is crystal clear to me: The Democratic Party (via both lame duck executives) is throwing immigrants under the bus because they see it as a way appeal to conservative Democrats, Independents and moderate Republicans, to whom immigration reform and "sanctuary cities" are a hard sell. And because the Dems think they've got the immigrant-friendly vote sewn up tight already — thanks to Donald Trump's racist and unrelenting demagoguery, Ted Cruz's longstanding anti-immigrant cred, even Jeb Bush's and Marco Rubio's anemic responses to the bash-the-immigrant direction their party has taken.
But for this Latina and Democrat, it is increasingly clear there is no immigrant-friendly party, and precious few truly immigrant-friendly (or even immigrant-neutral) politicians.
So, yes, it is horrific, during the GOP debate, to hear Donald Trump invoke Dwight Eisenhower's "Operation Wetback" for its forced expulsion of 1.5 million people of Mexican descent during 1954 — but no more so than the fact that President Obama had deported 2 million by November of 2014, and is probably close to approaching the 3 million mark today.
So, yes, it is horrific to hear Trump praise Operation Wetback as humane, despite at least 88 recorded deaths from heat exposure when Eisenhower's administration dropped deportees off in middle of the Mexican desert — but no more so than the fact that 83 of the asylum seekers the Obama administration deported back to Central America have been killed by the gang violence they were fleeing in the first place.
So, yes, it is disgusting to hear Trump refer to those coming over the southern border as criminals — but it is just as disgusting to note that although Obama has assured us he's only deporting "criminals," a full two-thirds of those who have been deported during his administration are "people who had committed minor infractions, including traffic violations, or had no criminal record at all," according to the New York Times' analysis of internal government records.
So, yes, it is infuriating to hear the Republican presidential candidates refer to undocumented folks as "illegal immigrants" during their debates — but it is just as infuriating to hear Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton "slip up" this past week in New Hampshire, and use the term "illegal immigrants" in her answer to a question posed to her at a town hall: "Well, look, I voted numerous times when I was a senator to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in," she said. (Watch the video here.)
And now, radically decreased protections for undocumented immigrants in our city, ushered in by a Democratic mayor, abetted by the administration of a Democratic president.
My guess is that although it happened in Philly first (because the Democratic National Convention will be here), the same sort of revoking of protections that safeguard not only immigrants but public safety will soon start happening in other cities as well. Anywhere, really, where highly placed Democratic politicians (who want an appointment in the administration of the presumptive Democratic candidate) can be found.
Mayor-elect Jim Kenney's spokesperson has said he is "committed to keeping the current status of Philadelphia as a sanctuary city," according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, and I applaud that. But if the order is indeed rescinded before he takes office, what are the chances he'll sign his own version of the executive order and have it in place before the November 2016 elections? I wish I weren't a cynic. Really.
What is increasingly clear to me is that U.S. Latinos — some 60 percent of us who personally know someone threatened by deportation and/or detention, and especially the 40 percent of us who, in addition to knowing someone threatened by Nutter's and Johnson's actions, are also eligible voters — cannot afford to serve as a guaranteed voting block for any party.
Not for the Republicans who would sacrifice us overtly. Not for the Democrats who would do so as readily, only more covertly.
Let them earn our vote. They can start any day now.