Anger is still boiling after President Obama announced that he was delaying his expected announcement of more executive relief for immigrants until after the Nov. 4 midterm elections. People who are directly involved with struggles of the immigrant communities point out that this means tens of thousands more people will be deported than if he had not delayed the decision.
One sometimes wonders if our politicians know what it means when breadwinners or other family members are deported. They may be sent into situations not only of grinding poverty but of mortal danger, as in the hyper violent areas of Central America from which the child migrants come. If they have jobs, they lose them. If they have homes and are paying on a mortgage, the family members left behind will not be able to keep up the payments, and likely will end up thrown out of their homes. The emotional damage to left-behind spouses and minor children is heartbreaking.
Relatives, friends, neighbors and coworkers of people who are faced with deportation need to keep organizing, protesting and agitating. Anything that has been gained so far has been because of this-nothing, whether legislation in Congress or executive orders from the White House, happens without such pressure.
However, we have to take, also, a realistic attitude toward what the politicians are likely to do and not do. President Obama agreed to implement DACA for the “Dreamers” in 2012 because he and his fellow Democrats thought it might increase the Latino vote for them in that year’s elections, and it did. He delayed his scheduled announcement about expanding benefits for the undocumented until after the November 2014 midterm election because he got pressure, from within the Democratic Party, from Senate incumbents and other candidates who feared that their Republican opponents would whip up anti-immigrant fears as an electoral tactic, so he backed off his promise. The Republicans, for their part, did their bit to promote such fears.
The anger is legitimate but like it or not, this is how the U.S. political system works and it is unlikely to change in the short run. Electoral calculations can never be left out of our strategy.
If the Republicans gain control of the Senate and keep their House majority, it will not help a single immigrant family, and it could make things worse. True, it is probable that no progressive immigration reform legislation can get through Congress until after the 2016 elections. But the mischief that a Congress in which both houses have a Republican majority could create on this and other issues is real and daunting. Very negative stuff could get passed, such as sabotaging DACA by eliminating its budget.
We should promote voter registration and turnout on Nov. 4, and be especially aware of the fact that Latinos, new citizens and poor people are the target of massive efforts at vote suppression orchestrated by the Republican Party. Democrats are a very mixed bag but I don’t know of a single state or congressional district where the Democratic Party Candidate is actually worse than the Republican. Nor do I know of any in which there is a third party candidate who could actually win, and there are many in which he or she would end up helping the Republicans.
Meanwhile, there needs to be an organized fight for each immigrant family facing the catastrophe of deportation. This requires intensive work within the immigrant communities to make sure that everybody who benefited from DACA the first time round understands that they have to apply for an extension, that anybody denied DACA authorization should be helped, that people who are threatened with deportation are defended and not just left to their own devices. For example, in 2011 the Obama administration gave the I.C.E. orders to prioritize for deportation people who represent a danger to the public, but this was sandbagged at the implementation stage by the I.C.E. bureaucracy.
That issue has to be raised again, and pressure put on I.C.E. offices to interpret “prosecutorial discretion” in the most generous way possible.
There are also things we can fight for at the state and local level. An increasing number of city, county and state governments are refusing to cooperate with I.C.E. “detainer orders.” These are requests by immigration authorities that jails not release prisoners until their immigration status is checked, including for 5 days beyond the date they would be released. If this becomes a national trend, it could seriously gum up mass deportation efforts. That would help a lot of people as well as creating a new pressure on the whole deportation industry.