Immigrant Youth to Presidential Candidates: Promises Will Not Win Our Support

A rally in support of immigrant youth, in Chicago, March 2011.A rally in support of immigrant youth in Chicago, March 2011. (Photo: peoplesworld/Flickr)

If it wasn’t clear before, it is now: President Obama’s 2014 Immigration Action, though beneficial to millions of parents of US citizens and residents, maintained the foundations of a cruel detention and deportation system intact for those unjustly excluded and further cleaved our communities between deserving and undeserving immigrants under proclamations of “families not felons,” codified by new and rigid enforcement priorities.

Since then, leading Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have acknowledged the political rather than legal considerations that guided President Obama, leading them to make promises of further executive action should they be elected president.

Although these developments can be partly attributed to the pressures of building a progressive platform ahead of the Democratic primaries, they are also a testament to the power undocumented immigrants have built through bold and fearless organizing that has challenged foe and friend alike.

As undocumented immigrant youth, we have a message for all of these presidential hopefuls: Promises are not enough. Not when a Democratic president still occupies the White House, and definitely not when undocumented leaders like Jennicet Gutierrez are forced to continue to place so much on the line to move this president to make full use of his authority to put an end to the practice of immigrant detention and truly dismantle deportation programs that criminalize and commodify our communities for profit.

This is why we challenge all presidential hopefuls seeking the Latino vote with promises for the future to follow the example of undocumented leaders and take sensible action on immigration now.

The candidates may respond to our challenge by pointing out that they currently lack the executive powers to put an end to these injustices, but we know they are not powerless. In the absence of administrative authority, candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination can directly enact further positive change for immigrant communities by using their influence to openly and unequivocally champion immediate policy changes that:

  • End the practice inhumane immigrant detention;

  • End all collaboration between local law enforcement agencies and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and programs that criminalize undocumented migration; and

  • Expand Deferred Action to its full potential under the law.

Championing the demands of undocumented immigrants should be easiest for Hillary Clinton, among the current field of Democratic presidential contenders. Clinton’s hiring of Lorella Praeli – a high-profile DREAMer who led the United We Dream Network’s advocacy campaigns for a stop to deportations – as her Latino outreach director was a smart, strategic move considering her past immigration record, but it is nowhere near enough to convince us of her commitment. Until candidate Clinton advocates for our community’s proposed policy changes in the present, we must take Praeli’s hiring with a grain of salt and hope that Clinton’s campaign does not intend for Praeli to serve the role of a Cecilia Munoz 2.0.

It’s said that politicians campaign in poetry but govern in prose. But for Democratic hopefuls, there is a responsibility and an expectation to do both. The promises they dangle in front of Latino voters to get us to the polls will be more convincing when they pressure the current president to apply their recommendations now.

When we see them as part of the effort to make our present day more secure, then we’ll start to believe what they say they’ll do in the future. Until then, we remain unconvinced.