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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Letter to Obama & Romney from the road to Damascus: Revelations about the undocumented, the DREAM Act & the Latino vote

(Also published on April 23, 2012, as two Politic365 submissions: http://politic365.com/2012/04/23/letter-to-mr-obama-on-latinos-youre-not-trying-hard-enough/, and http://politic365.com/2012/04/23/memo-to-mr-romney-latinos-are-voters-too/, as well as part of Leadership Educational Equity's "Teach for America Alumni of Los Angeles" blog:
http://blog.educationalequity.org/blog/story/2012/4/27/35716/9505, and as one piece on the L.A. Progressive: http://www.laprogressive.com/latino-vote/).

The political machines behind you, Mitt Romney and you, President Obama are both currently engaged in a collective clamor to get the percentage of Latino voters you need in order to guarantee victory in November, especially in 12 of the 15 swing states—places like Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Virginia.

For Democrats who support you, Mr. President, Latino over-performance in key states, as in 2010—i.e., concurrent high-turnout and wide-margins of support—equal not only your return to the White House, but also the ability to hang onto the slimmest of majorities in the Senate. Because of the failures and backlash incurred by the Republican 527 group, “Latinos For Reform,” it is unlikely that the Republicans who support you, Mr. Romney, will embrace anything resembling a “Don’t Vote” campaign in this cycle. However, your GOP base are both counting on new and strengthened voter ID laws, as well as changes to early voting and voter registration guidelines, in states like Florida, New Mexico, and Colorado, will make it tougher for President Obama to repeat his 2008 numbers. And surely you, and all those who oppose the President’s reelection, are studying 2000 and 2004 presidential election results closely, in order to determine the specific cross sections of the Latino electorate, with which George W. Bush made gains.

As a Latino voter, I expect to hear an appeal from each of you, as well as the surrogates, pundits, and third party spokespersons that support you. Regardless of the setting, I expect to be bombarded by social media posts, directmail pieces, and talking points, prepared for the 24 hour news cycle, addressing issues like economic growth, healthcare access, job creation, and educational opportunity. Sadly, when it comes to the DREAM Act, and the wider topic of comprehensive immigration reform, I expect similarly hackneyed scripts—sympathetic to the DREAM Act’s military service provisions, in favor of the “best and brightest” from around the world continuing to pursue their educations at America’s universities; against “amnesty,” and for “border security”—followed by a predictable exchange of partisan finger-pointing in a blame game that conveniently ignores the 3 GOP Senators and 8 Republicans in the House of Representatives who supported the DREAM Act in 2010, as well as the 5 Democratic Senators and 38 Democrats in the House of Representatives who opposed it.

Like most Latino voters, I understand the details of comprehensive immigration reform plans promoted during a presidential election year are extremely nuanced. Every word must be focus group tested, turf surveyed, and internally polled. Therefore, since my mother lives on the border of Somis, CA, an unincorporated community populated by commercial farmland, I won’t be surprised when both of your campaigns begin peppering her with statements of support for an AgJOBS compromise. Please know, however, that while we’re wading through sound bites regarding the “broken immigration system,” what we’re hoping for is any sign that you understand that current policies are unfair, arbitrary, and inhumane.

Mr. Romney, if you were willing to acknowledging the injustices faced by mixed status families, willing to defend the rights and humanity of the undocumented, millions of Latino voters would support you. But thus far, you’ve avoided even acknowledging the decency and potential contribution of undocumented youth like medieval hypochondriacs avoided the bubonic plague.

Despite the fact that ICE deported a record number, 396,906 human beings last year alone, you’ve called for the construction of more border fencing, opposition to “amnesty” for anyone who is undocumented—including DREAM Act-eligible youth—and have expressed such fervent support for anti-immigrant legislation, at all levels of government, that you won the endorsement of leaders in the “immigration crackdown movement,” long before establishing your delegate lead in the race for the GOP nomination. Not only did you call Arizona’s SB 1070 a “model” for the rest of the country in a debate this year, and gave an interview last year supporting its implementation because of the “failure of the federal government to do its job,” Mr. Romney, but on April 20—despite being urged to soften your tone, and distance yourself from the draconian stances on immigration that defined the Republican Primary—your spokesperson confirmed Arizona SB 1070’s co-author, Kris Kobach, is not only your enthusiastic supporter, but an “informal adviser” to your campaign.

Mr. President, your decision to use the power of the Attorney General’s office to stop states like Arizona, Alabama, and South Carolina from enforcing measures advanced by anti-immigrant legislatures and executives, and your efforts to ease the acquisition of legal status for some, and ameliorate the threat of deportation for others, explain much of the 64% to 24% advantage you hold over Mr. Romney with Latino voters. While 86% of us (82% of US-born, and 90% of foreign-born Latinos) are in favor of providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, we understand that this is in sharp contrast with the American electorate, writ large. One in which only 44% of voters support such a path, and 61% believe Arizona’s SB 1070 should be found Constitutional by the Supreme Court.

Nevertheless, I am morally obligated to chastise your administration for deporting 46,000 parents whose children are citizens of the United States. I say morally obligated, because when I was 6-years-old, my parents were deported. My birth on US soil conferred me with citizenship. But there’s no such thing as an “anchor baby.” Had I not been allowed to travel to Mexico, to remain with my mother and father, I would have gone into the foster care system, just like the 5,100 kids currently trapped in it, because their parents have been detained or deported.

A photo of you sitting alone on a bus recently made headlines, Mr. President. You were caught deep in thought, sitting in a passenger seat, staring out of one of the side windows on the bus, where on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, knowingly chose to disobey an immoral, and unjust law.

Mr. President, today’s immigration laws are such laws.

The law that separated parents like Felipe Montes and Blanca Cardenasfrom their children, immoral. The one that threatens to deport America’s undocumented youth, born abroad and brought here as children by parents desperate for a better life, unjust. 287g and “Secure Communities”, as well as NCLB’s requirement that high schools give military recruiters the names and contact information of students, along with the enticement of George W. Bush’s Executive Order to expedite conferring legal status to undocumented immigrants serving in active duty for eight years, during a time when Latinos in active duty have been 20% more likely to die, are immoral. The laws that led to the deportation of the Correa family are unjust. Visa laws preventing Latinos and Asians from participating in the “Green Card lottery,” and mandating that some immigrants (read: European) should wait no more than 3 years before being able to secure legal status for their spouses and/or children, while others (read: Asians and Latin Americans) must wait up to 23 years before being able to do the same, are nothing less than carbon copies of the de jure discrimination policies citizens of color faced before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Today’s immigration laws are so immoral, and unjust, they are responsible for the deaths of Anastasio Hernandez, Nelson Avila, and thousands of other human beings deserving of dignity and opportunity, instead of lives cut short by avoidable tragedies.

Rosa Parks’ arrest in Montgomery, Alabama, led to the riders’ boycott that launched Martin Luther King Jr.’s career. On April 16, 1963, in “Letter from Birmingham Jail” he wrote as follows:

“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here… Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny… We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny.”

Latino population growth accounted for more than half of total US population growth between 2000 and 2010 (15.2 of 27.3 million); growing at a rate of 43% (four times the nation’s 9.7% growth rate). 92% of Latino children are US-citizens. Every month, between now and Election Day, 50,000 Latinos will turn 18. 9.2 million naturalized citizens across the nation are already registered voters. By November, there will be over 2 million more Latino voters than there were in the last Presidential election. Half will be under 40 years of age. 62% have a friend, neighbor, coworker, or relative who is undocumented; 25% know someone who has faced deportation. 81% believe all Latinos, not just immigrants, face significant discrimination, a belief corroborated by the National Institute of Justice, Southern Poverty Law Center, and FBI data, demonstrating disproportionate growth in anti-Latino hate crimes and hate groups.

Juan Varela was shot in his front yard, in front of his mother and brother, by a man yelling, “Go back to Mexico or die!” The Varelas have been citizens of the United States for five generations.

Shawna Forde and two suspected accomplices woke up Brisenia Flores’ family and told them they were law enforcement officers. When her father questioned the intruders, they stormed into the house and shot him. They shot her mother. And then they shot her, twice, at point-blank range. Brisenia was murdered by Minuteman border vigilantes, despite the fact that she was a US-citizen; despite the fact that she was 9-years-old.

Mr. President, Mr. Romney, abused and scorned through we may be, Latinos—one out of every six Americans, one out of every four American children—are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny with America. Our patriotic contributions seen in every aspect of American history and quotidian life, we have always embraced not only the American dream, but also the burden of rebuilding it whenever, and wherever, it is denied. The next time you pledge allegiance to the flag that stands for liberty and justice for all, remember this letter.

Our well-being is even more important than our vote. And because the goal of America is freedom, I ask you to stand for ours.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Poverty & Race in the Ann Romney vs. Hilary Rosen “Mommy Wars”

(Originally published on April 16, 2012 as a Politic365 submission: http://politic365.com/2012/04/16/see-if-ann-romney-was-black/, as well as part of Leadership for Educational Equity's "Teach for America Alumni of Los Angeles" blog: http://blog.educationalequity.org/blog/story/2012/4/17/23956/9266, and republished by the Dallas Weekly: http://m.dallasweekly.com/mobile/politics/article_2881d37a-88b0-11e1-9eef-001a4bcf6878.html).

“What you have is Mitt Romney running around the country, saying, ‘Well, you know, my wife tells me that what women really care about are economic issues, and when I listen to my wife, that's what I'm hearing.’ Guess what? His wife has actually never worked a day in her life.”
Hilary Rosen, April 11, 2012, Anderson Cooper 360, CNN

“Let’s put the faux ‘war against stay at home moms’ to rest once and for all. As a mom, I know that raising children is the hardest job there is. As a pundit, I know my words on CNN last night were poorly chosen… I was discussing [Mitt Romney’s] poor record on the plight of women’s financial struggles… I apologize to Ann Romney and anyone else who was offended. Let’s declare peace in this phony war and go back to focus on the substance.”
Hilary Rosen, April 12, 2012, Statement in advance of appearance on the Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, CNN

“My career choice was to be a mother, and I think all of us need to know that we need to respect choices that women make… I've been on the campaign trail for one year. And guess what women are talking about… They’re talking about jobs, and they’re talking about the legacy of debt that we’re leaving our children.”
Ann Romney, April 12, 2012, America’s Newsroom with Martha McCallum, Fox News

“Let me give a shout-out to all moms… We love all of you… I've heard recently something how women were being referred to as a special interest group… Women are not a special interest group… There’s only one part of that phrase that’s correct: women are special.”
Ann Romney, April 13, 2012, Remarks to the National Rifle Association, Annual Meeting


What a difference a day makes...

From Wednesday to Thursday of last week, Hilary Rosen went from stating that Ann Romney’s status as a wealthy woman without a professional career nullified her ability to advise Mitt Romney on women’s viewpoints regarding economic issues, to being completely thrown under the bus despite her clarifying comments and public apology.

From Thursday to Friday of last week, Ann Romney went from pivoting away from Hilary Rosen’s comments in an attempt to (re)focus media attention on anemic macroeconomic indicators, to embracing the circus of the “mommy wars,” as well as deliberately using the coded language right-wing strategists have used in an attempt to distance women from “special interest” entities like Planned Parenthood, organized labor, and social/racial/economic justice advocacy groups.

By last Saturday, an email blast from Romney campaign Senior Advisor, Beth Meyers, went out, labeling Hilary Rosen an “Obama adviser,” and promoting the online sale of “Moms drive the economy” bumper stickers.

As Zerlina Maxwell wrote on Feministing, “Moms who are praised tend to be white and suburban… I would be hard pressed to find a anyone, particularly on the right praising a woman of color for being a ‘stay at home’ mom. I hear a lot of ‘welfare queen’ language or that our current president is a ‘food stamp’ president but nothing about how wonderful it is that so many women of color are choosing to stay at home and raise their kids. More likely women of color who are ‘stay at home’ moms would be viewed as ‘lazy’ or ‘poor role models’ for their children.”

When a caller to Rush Limbaugh’s show asked, “If the Democrats can criticize Mrs. Romney for not working outside the home, then why don’t the Democrats criticize women on welfare for not working outside the home?” Jack Kemp took this incendiary question and converted it into a full length piece for the American Thinker, “If you are a woman not on welfare—and especially if you are wealthy today—your past and current efforts and (at times) struggles to raise a family at home is illegit [sic]… That is, unless you have a seemingly no show job at the U. of Chicago Hospital and your name is Michelle Obama.”

Mitt Romney, and his supporters, after repeatedly accusing President Obama of (socioeconomic) “class warfare,” are ignoring Hilary Rosen’s apology, and focusing on the controversy generated by her original statement in an attempt to create a wedge between women, based not only on pocketbook considerations, but also on the basis of racially charged stereotypes. This strategy is a win-win for Republicans seeking victory in November, especially in a national climate of heightened sensitivity with respect to racial biases. One possible outcome is a reduction in the “gender gap,” a.k.a. the polling advantage that President Obama enjoys with female voters. Another is the dissuasion of women’s participation in the electorate, as occurred when Republicans made historic gains in 1994.

On Friday, a woman identifying herself as “Juanita,” a former Romney family cook and babysitter, called Stephanie Miller’s show to claim Ann Romney truly “never worked.” This not only added fuel to the fire of this already heated exchange, but also reminded those paying attention of past Romney family controversies: Including the decisions to pay their four maids barely half of the lowest range in average housekeeper salaries, and twice hire low-wage undocumented workers to perform landscaping services.

While these are real issues, they are not at the heart of what generated this controversy in the first place.

In the late 1950s, the poverty rate for all Americans was 22.4%. By 1973 it was 11.1%. The poverty rate rose again, reaching 15.1% by 1993. It declined to 11.3% by 2000, but rose to 15.1% by 2010. Yet this is not a complete picture of poverty in America. 40% of female-headed households live in poverty. Women are poorer than men regardless of racial/ethnic group, and Latinas and African American women are the poorest of all.

If we reasonably assume that men and women are both equally capable of being parents, and have an equal responsibility for both unpaid work as homemakers and caregivers, as well as economic support, then our public policies must facilitate equally shared parenting, without penalty to employment, advancement, benefits, and so forth. Single women currently incur all of the consequences when their sexual behavior results in pregnancy. Single men do not. It’s time to establish paternity and legally require fathers to contribute their time and money toward the clothing, feeding, housing, care, education, and development of their children. When fathers are unable to pay, or when their contributions fail to raise the household out of poverty, government must step in with effective programs providing everything from financial support to high quality public education—from Early Childhood Education in daycares/preschools that promote school readiness, to K-12 systems that eradicate achievement gaps and afford all students a college and career path, to systems of higher education that do not trap students in years of schooling and decades of debt repayment without degree or job prospect guarantees.

And because the politics of gender collide so completely with the realities of race, the role of education must ultimately be to embrace a curriculum that comprehensively addresses current—not just the historic—inequalities, ambiguities, and uncertainties that lead to the overpopulation of women, and people of color in poverty.