They have to be better than “better than Trump”
When it comes to immigration, tonight’s Democratic Primary debate provided a much needed respite from the politics of hate and fear that permeate the Republican race. As an undocumented immigrant from California I can’t overemphasize how important this is at a moment when our own Democratic Senator, Dianne Feinstein, has become a leading force in the anti-immigrant frenzy. There is no doubt that the stark difference in tone among the Democratic candidates has much to do with the level of political power the migrant justice movement under the direction of undocumented leader as well as other social justice movements have built in recent years.
During the debate, every candidate professed their support for comprehensive immigration reform, and nearly all of them endorsed the idea of following California’s footsteps in expanding health care and instate college tuition for the undocumented to varying degrees. Most significantly, words like “further” and “beyond” were used to describe what they would do in relation to President Obama’s deferred action programs. Hillary Clinton doubled down on her promise to go further than President Obama in expanding relief through executive action should she become president.
However, there were two holes in the conversation which would speak volumes about their leadership on immigration and show that the difference is more than just the tone used when talking about our communities:
- An acknowledgement that over the last six years under their party’s leadership, our community has been victim to the largest mass deportation campaign in US history. It may be easy to say “I’m not Donald Trump” but what do they say to the estimated three million people deported under the current President?
- And a demonstrable commitment to put an end to this injustice in the present tense. Not through promises for the future, but by calling on DHS under President Obama, their party’s president, to dismantle the systems of hyper-enforcement he failed to address with November’s executive actions and which continue to tear at our communities day after day.
President Obama’s immigration legacy is as much a lesson of not trusting what a candidate says about the future as it is the mixture of mass deportation and partial relief. The best indication of what candidates will do in the future is what’s being done in the present. Will they join the call to end inhumane practices at DHS, now not later? Will they sit with a family whose loved one has a deportation order? Will they visit the detention centers known for their abuse?
And what will we do? With Trump on one-side and candidates full of promises on the other, we’re getting back to what we know: organize, organize, organize. What was most evident in the debate was the way in which our movements for people and the planet have shaped the debate. To now move the candidates beyond tone and into positive policy will take something else. Candidates will be as good as we push them. If we want them to say more and do more on the issues that matter to us, it’s up to us to create the movement they can’t ignore or placate with talking points.
Hairo Cortes is an organizer with the Orange County Immigrant Youth United.