Latinx communities face numerous challenges, most of which are broadcast in a manner where the narrative is driven by an establishment that does not recognize our place within the delicate social fabric. Policies and social norms shape the perception (and the livelihood of our communities), yet the mainstream often does not hear of these hardships from a Latinx perspective.
The prejudicial underpinnings of societal expectations drive the economic and political well-being of our people. Political participation is scrutinized, immigration is glossed over and socioeconomic standing is ignored to a large degree. It is time to change that perspective.
Will We Show Up in 2016?
There will be 27 million eligible Latinx voters in the upcoming election. The question is: what will this broad demographic base showcase in terms of actual results? The Latinx vote is diverse and intricate. It is impossible to define, so much of the discussion should be taken at face value. There is all this talk of rising Latinx political participation, despite a historical lack of involvement in the process.
A concerted effort has been made to convince eligible Latinx voters to participate in the electoral process. This has been branded as the “year of the Latino voter,” the election cycle that draws the millions of qualified Latinx citizens to the polls. The evidence shows Democratic support does not correlate to recognition of Democratic candidates. This frightens the elite of the Democratic establishment.
It is the potential political crisis that arises from a lack of recognition that also frightens any Democratic candidate. Whether the person is a senatorial candidate, or a presidential one, it matters. The focus, however, still remains on the electorate as a tool (see: Arizona and Texas), and does not delve into discussion of the exploitation, and suppression of the Latinx vote. Rather than authentically recognizing the voice of the proclaimed “sleeping giant,” it appears that it is under attack.
The Latinx electorate is growing. This cannot be disputed. Therefore, it is an unfortunate consequence of the oppressive state, where growing diversity is stifled in order to preserve the established white hegemony. With few barriers to unfettered prejudicial practices, the “myth of voter fraud” has justified the swath of voter suppression laws passed in the last four years.
The catalyst was the issuance of a Supreme Court decision, in a case known as Shelby County v. Holder. The Court’s 5–4 decision determined that Section Four of the ruling was unconstitutional. The decision held that Section 4 was outdated, using a coverage formula that does not suit the realities of the present day. Since the ruling, much has occurred, including the Voting Rights Act—which was not drastic ideological change, but rather, a mere state of compliance.
The impact was immediate, with laws from states such as Texas being passed in the aftermath of the Court’s decision. It has eviscerated the progress of the Voting Rights Act, and is a decision rendered by men from a position of obvious privilege.
Therein lies the problem facing the Latinx electorate in the coming 2016 general election and beyond. There is recognition of the influence of the sheer numbers, however, there is not external effort to encourage what is often touted as the deciding factor of most elections. There are empty appeals to the Latinx electorate (see: Spanish speaker Tim Kaine; Hillary Clinton “not my abuela,”), while the real issues are not discussed. This is why the Latinx electorate is still called a “sleeping giant.” No one respects it enough to awaken it.
The Immigration Game
In the last two decades, the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) transformed the political landscape. For the sake of Democratic administrations, these pieces of legislation remain a scar, their presence felt, but hidden from the mainstream.
AEDPA introduced measures that required the detention of non-citizens based on a predetermined set of offenses. IIRIRA expanded the list. The expansion of the list of deportable offenses was horrific. The passage of these two laws has contributed to the sharp rise in deportation, seeing growth from “69.690 in 1996 to 409.849 in 2012.” The astronomical rate should not be a surprise. It has been a critical part of domestic immigration policy for decades.
AEDPA has contributed to the effective deterioration of civil liberties for documented and undocumented immigrants in the United States. The true purpose of the legislation was fulfilled, as it cemented the idea that due process is a not constitutional right, but, rather, a discretionary one. It legitimizes the use of unconstitutional practices, and has served as the catalyst for policies that encourage mass incarceration and immigrant detention.
It is reprehensible to assume that the passage of IIRIRA and AEDPA were nothing but exploitative measures. For 20 years, the effects have been disastrous. The privatization of immigrant detention, the outsourcing of immigrant detention and deportation to local law enforcement, and retroactive deportation, serve as examples of these consequences.
Through IIRIRA, the Immigration and Nationality Act was amended, adding section 287 (g), which saw the cooperation of local and state law enforcement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The cooperation between the federal authorities and state and local entities serves as a lynchpin to domestic immigration policy.
The delegation of federal responsibilities to the state and local level is concerning. There is an inaccurate assumption that the partnership was critical to assuring safe and secure communities. The repeal of the “Secure Communities” initiative is a recognition of failure, that otherwise is not acknowledged by the mainstream establishment.
It becomes interesting to understand the motivations behind the implementation of such programs, as the removal of undocumented and documented immigrants appears to be predicated on an obsession with “law and order.” It has caused the growth of a deportation machine that has drawn attention away from more proactive and substantial methods for solving the present “immigration problem.”
The Impact of DACA and DAPA
There is a need, and a longing for, comprehensive immigration reform that is beneficial and does not belittle the people that it is meant to support. Legislation has not been forthcoming—the victim of partisan politics. The frustration has resulted in two cases of executive action penned to combat the partisan bickering.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) serve as the means to circumvent the reluctance to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
For the past four years, DACA has elicited a positive response from the recipients it intended to benefit. The impact has been beneficial to those recipients who applied for DACA status, showing an increase in employment, increased earnings and secured driver’s licenses. However, there is still a certain level of uneasiness in regards to barriers faced as a result of their tentative status.
The data has shown that in the absence of effective legislation, DACA has provided some semblance of relief, but it has not cured all the ills associated with the lack of comprehensive immigration reform. The issuance of DAPA, therefore, comes as a surprise to a certain extent, as it was yet another example of executive fiat to bypass congressional stubbornness.
DAPA, of course, was designated as another saving grace for the undocumented—a declaration, whose potential for success is lauded by staunch supporters. Nonetheless, despite such support, the Supreme Court, in United States v. Texas, affirmed the ruling of the lower courts through a deadlocked vote, and the implementation of DAPA (and the extended DACA programs) was suspended.
So, what does this mean for the future of millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States? With the undocumented population in a decade-long decline, the worries expressed by the Republican Party appear unwarranted. The delay of DAPA action is due, in no large part, to these fears, hiding behind the guise of “states’ rights” or President Obama overreaching his constitutional authority.
There is a cost to the delay of the implementation of DAPA and expanded DACA programs. The economic impact is steep, so long as there is no effective solution. The longer there is no solution, the undocumented population is allowed to suffer. Even a temporary reprieve is enough to ease the pain of uncertain status.
The Supreme Court, with the 4–4 verdict, has placed the future of DAPA and expanded DACA on hold. This attempt at immigration reform, while a stop-gap, has a greater purpose, to serve the needs of those who live in the shadows. However, it is, and will remain just that: a stop-gap. No matter the costs or the benefits, DACA, DAPA and expanded DACA serve as temporary solutions—a tenuous bridge between undocumented status and comprehensive immigration reform.
Welfare Reform and Latinx Poverty
In 1996, Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (from this point on, it will be referred to as “the Act”), a piece of legislation that saw an extensive restructuring of the welfare system in the United States.
The legislation received widespread support. “To end welfare as we know it,” was the pledge, yet, rather than wean America off “welfare dependency” Clinton created more abject poverty. It was meant to replace the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, a program created as part of the Social Security Act of 1935, however, the history of the program was controversial, marred by a racist history.
The AFDC was plagued with numerous issues, most of which, as already mentioned, were prejudicial. Plagued from the outset with American disdain for “handouts,” there was a “need” to remove the “welfare queen.” With this in mind, the replacement of the AFDC was to focus on the integration of the poor back into the workforce. As with most misconceptions about those people who suffer in poverty, being poor is equated with laziness. The improper use of funds, therefore, is attributed to poverty-stricken Latinx families, for example, instead of the politicians charged with allocating these funds.
The Act replaced the AFDC with something now known as (TANF), a program that was tasked with providing temporary assistance to those families that fit the criteria. In the past five years, restrictions have been placed on assistance, targeting impoverished minorities, , a significant amount being Hispanic.
TANF has been proven to provide little aid to poor families, yet, the Act is touted as a far-reaching success. Even with shrinking aid, and a blatant disregard for the true nature of welfare, the success of the Act is predicated on the implementation of “family caps.”
Perhaps this success is attributed to the decline of cash assistance recipients, providing states such as Arizona with the justification to gut welfare spending, or, it speaks to the complacent nature of the politicians who created it.
The Act hampered the effective nature of welfare and defined it in accordance to established norms. “Marriage is the foundation of a successful society” and punished women who did not adhere to this archaic belief. Title I, Section 103 of the Act, stated that one of the intended purposes of the legislation was to “end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage.”
A significant amount of TANF funding has gone to promoting marriage as a foundation of society. This is blasphemous, as it is an unfair and racist characterization of poverty-stricken minority communities. Marriage is not a protection against the ills of state-sponsored social inequalities. For example, a 2014 study found that 21 percent of Latinx children with married parents were subject to poverty (a rate four times as high as children with white parents).
The myth of marriage as the hallmark of successful families ignores the hardships that quite a few people in Latinx communities are forced to confront. The pervasive and hypocritical blabbering by Hillary Clinton about her decades of child-advocacy serves as a staunch contradiction to her support of legislation that has helped contribute to the increase in deep poverty.
How Does the Latinx Community Move Forward?
There is much that affects Latinx communities that does not reach the front page, front-billing on news programs or even inspires politicians to act on our behalf. It is not unfortunate—it is a fact that our struggles are destined to become but simple talking points.
It is not appealing to broadcast the issues of a racial minority without placating to the prejudicial views of the masses. It is the assumption that an entire community is the “other,” that drives the popular narrative. To break free from the shackles of perpetual racism and the staunch opposition against the advancement of Latinx causes, one must confront the realities. The method becomes ideological, where a shift in the social paradigm is demanded. That call is never recognized, even as the harsh reality of change confronts the establishment.
It is pertinent that this change must be peaceful. It is also critical that this change does not conform to the whims of those who created the climate in which our voices are silent, and our experiences ignored. The horrendous domestic policies passed within the last 20 years must not be ignored. The establishment must answer to their ineffective governance. For if we cannot elicit a tacit response, receiving deflection instead of coherent solutions to our problems, who will fight for us, and to be frank, who will care?
The answer is no one but ourselves, because sometimes, change is best achieved when no one else is listening.
Nathaniel Santos Hernández is a graduate of the University of Maine, Orono, with a degree in Anthropology. You can follow him on Twitter @saint_nate12.
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