On November 20th, President Obama finally announced his plan to fix the country's dysfunctional immigration system. After the disastrous midterm election defeat, the administration started to make quick executive moves on critical issues, such as climate change and net neutrality. Based on corporate media's relentless effort to sensationalize the administration's swift actions, it seemed as though the Obama administration would also make a "Big Move" on immigration. Nonetheless, once the official announcement was made, his plan was a hollow branding effort, just like his presidency.
Under the new plan, it is estimated that about 5 million out of 11.5 million undocumented immigrants will receive temporary relief. It is great that 5 million folks will be relieved from the fear of deportation. However, his plan rather shamelessly revealed the administration and his party's honest views toward undocumented immigrants.
Obama's plan prioritized further militarizing the southern US border, followed by increasing the number of visas for high skilled workers, and providing relief for parents of US citizens and lawful permanent residents. Obama administration explicitly excluded individuals who do not possess certain political benefits to protect. Such individuals include: parents of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients, agricultural workers, LGBTQ folks who may not have family ties and those who caught in the unjust justice system. His plan decisively created a new caste system in US society.
During his speech in Nevada, he emphasized that the US is the nation of law and that separation of families goes against the country's values.
"America is not a nation that should be tolerating the cruelty of ripping children from their parents' arms. We're a nation that values families, and we should work together to keep them together."
But, it is the Obama administration that has separated more families than any other president's in US history. President Obama shamelessly promoted family values while addressing scores of undocumented immigrant families who will not qualify for administrative relief. His speech demonstrated a new level of hypocrisy.
As the government further militarizes the border, the military industrial complex will extract more profits from the misery of the people. The general US population opposes US imperial military adventures. The military industrial complex needs to target immigrants as "threats" in order to generate more fear and operate the US war machine. Under this effort, a new Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) will replace Secure Communities (S-Comm), a program where local law enforcement collaborates with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to criminalize and deport undocumented immigrants. This new program will be especially ruthless to undocumented immigrants who were jettisoned under Obama's new plan in order to meet the deportation quota and the bed mandate.
Additionally, the administration's prioritization of high skilled workers' visas instead providing relief to all undocumented immigrants revealed his party's true loyalty. The Democratic Party is already selling themselves to the wealthy donor base for the 2016 Presidential election. They should have learned their lesson from the midterm elections and work on issues impacting working people. Big tech industry, the new lucrative funding source for the Democratic Party, has been heavily lobbying the politicians for the expansion of visas for high skilled workers. Although this sounds rather innocuous under the guise of "job creation," the immigration process for obtaining visas for workers is arduous. Not to mention it is a great tool for corporations to control their workers, since companies can cancel employees' immigration sponsorship. The administration and its Party are actively participating in this brilliant and insidious control mechanism to oppress workers.
As mentioned, the Democratic Party has been using the immigration issue for short-term political gain. Providing relief to parents of US citizens and legal permanent residents only clearly revealed the party's indifference toward immigrant communitys' concerns. In recent decades, the Republican Party abandoned its parliamentary responsibilities and transformed itself into a right-wing extremist party serving the Top 1 percent while relying on the White conservative base. In response, the Democratic Party has been relying on minority turnout. Moreover, it is expected that we will witness the White population below the 50 percent for the second time. This new demographic shift drastically increased the Democratic Party's reliance on minority turnouts to win any major elections. The administration's plan reflected its Party's desperate and pathetic effort to appeal to their voting bloc for the 2016 election instead of building stronger base by working on issues people actually care about.
Under the US constitution, only the Congress has the legal authority to provide pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. However, the newly elected Congress will be even more futile than the current one. After the Republican Party's gerrymandering, the House of Representatives will most likely be under the Republican control until 2022. If there are any organizations or politicians still promoting the Senate's Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill or CIR, they are either delusional or hallucinating.
In that regard, the immigrant rights movement needs to shift its focus to build new alliances or strengthen current alliances with other social justice movements that impact broader populations beyond just immigrants. This process is absolutely crucial in order to continue the struggle and protect those who do not qualify under the new provision. The immigrant rights movement must infuse and integrate into other social and local movements to build populist fronts that actually reflect common interests of ordinary working people.
Currently, the US is experiencing various social upheavals as the government persistently fails to address the concerns of the general population. Since the rise of the neoliberalism in the late '70s, the middle class, the working class and low income communities were abandoned. Their incomes stagnated while the very wealthy - Top 1 percent -accumulated even greater wealth. Opportunistic politicians, regardless of party affiliation, began to sell themselves to the small number of people accumulating much greater wealth. They began to actively dismantle social safety nets and deregulate financial industries to pledge their loyalty to the rising corporate overlords. As the corrupt politicians and immoral corporate elites relentlessly sought their own self-interest under neoliberal policies, major institutions that could address ordinary people's concerns, such as unions, non-profit organizations or universities, were defeated by corporate force and ceased to function.
The corporate elites' capture of the political system was clearly evident when the US government provided relief to their corporate overlords, the very same criminals who nearly destroyed the world economy. As a result, only the Top 1 percent is fully recovered while everyone else has barely recovered or still suffers in the aftermath.
At this very moment, the corporate elites effectively control the government. Ordinary working people are continuously ignored, abandoned and neglected. But, as the narrow-minded and greed-driven elites arecontinuing this process, fragmented social movements are starting to recognize that there are others also struggling under the very same oppressive system. We are already seeing the rise of new social movements and encouraging more people to join. Newly developing movements, including fights for living wages, strikes led by low wageworkers or fights against the militarized police reflect people's anger over the grossly unequal and unjust system.
For the immigrant rights movement's organizers and activists, now is the time to revisit previous steps and identify the issues that impact a broad spectrum of people to rise together with other communities. We need to build resilient and sophisticated alliances with other movements to obtain political and economic justice that can benefit ALL, not just a certain segment of the population. Amilcal Cabral, a revolutionary from Guinea-Bissau, once said,
"Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone's head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children . . ."
A new chapter of the immigrant rights movement just began. Now, it is up to us to learn lessons from the past and move forward. There is no guarantee that this process will be joyful or even accomplish everything we want to. But, if his/herstory has taught us anything, as social movements join one another and learn from each other, we can and must build solidarity to stand together for/with one another. As this process continues, we the people will make greater steps forward and build a better future together.
1. Sweet, Lynn. "Obama to Boehner on Immigration: "I'll Walk Your Dog." Transcript." Early & Often. November 11, 2014. Accessed November 22, 2014.
2. "Lessons from Amilcar Cabral." In Claim No Easy Victories: The Legacy of Amilcar Cabral, edited by Firoze Manji and Bill Fletcher, Jr., 247. Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa and Daraja Press, 2013.