For Latinos, the Deportation Crisis Is Personal

Activists at more than 50 rallies around the country this weekend urged the White House to freeze deportations and stop dividing families.

Editor's Note: More than 50 "Day of Action" rallies took place around the country this weekend, in an effort to bring attention to the record-high number of deportations. Last month, President Obama asked the Homeland Security Department to review immigration law-enforcement practices and potentially ease the rate of deportations.

Sometime in the next few days our country will reach a troubling milestone — the 2 millionth deportation under the Obama administration.

Beginning with our 2007 report, Paying the Price, which documented the enormous impact that deportations have on U.S. children who are left behind, the National Council of La Raza has expressed deep concern over the devastating effects that a record number of deportations have had on Latinos.

Only recently has our message seemed to have broken through, in large part due to my remarks at the 2014 NCLR Capital Awards. What may have made that speech notable was the personal nature of the strong words I had for both President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner.

The reason is simple: For me and for the Latino community, the immigration issue is personal. In fact, there is nothing more personal than separating our families.

For us, 2 million is not just an abstract number. We know the faces and the stories behind those numbers. They include a colleague who witnessed her father being taken into custody and then deported; the little girl who burst into tears as she asked Pope Francis to help get her father out of detention; the babies and toddlers placed into foster care because their parents were picked up while working.

This is not an isolated set of anecdotes, but a full-fledged humanitarian crisis.

NCLR's report shows that for every two people deported, one child is left behind. More than 200,000 parents of U.S. children — often the family's breadwinner — have been deported in the past two years.

It feels deeply personal to us that policymakers are not doing enough to end, or even alleviate, this crisis. It is no secret that we have been frustrated by the president's assertion that his hands are tied. We believe that he can, and should, do more. He is able to do so under his executive authority, an act that would be well within the law.

Our spirits were lifted two weeks ago when the president announced he had ordered the Homeland Security Department to conduct a policy review. However, the Latino community is fully aware that the ultimate solution — a permanent, lasting one — has to come from Congress, and that immigration reform is being blocked by the House Republican caucus. That is why I have also had strong, personal words for Speaker Boehner.

It was both disingenuous and insulting for the House's top leader to lay the blame for the lack of legislative reform on the president's purported refusal to enforce the law, when Boehner's own members have been sitting on their hands unwilling to mark up, discuss, or vote on a bill for almost a year. That's how long the Senate bill has been waiting for House consideration. In fact, instead of moving on the most urgent issue facing the Latino community, the House pushed to undo the overwhelmingly popular Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provides temporary relief to Dreamers.

The Senate's recent vote against a resolution in honor of Cesar Chavez's birthday — one of the Hispanic community's most beloved heroes — has not gone unnoticed either.

To us, these actions are signs of disrespect. Republicans in Congress should know that we are taking this inaction personally.

To evoke an old saying, the personal is political. Earlier this week, The New York Times reported on an "enthusiasm gap" among Hispanic voters who feel disconnected from both parties. This gap will likely affect Democrats more than Republicans in the upcoming midterm elections. But while Democrats may have a problem this November, the Republicans will face an epic problem in 2016 and every election thereafter if they do not fundamentally repair their relationship with the fastest-growing group of voters in the country.

And for both parties, a word to the wise: It will take more than platitudes, stunts, and "feel-good" marketing to overcome this gap. It will take real, meaningful, and — might I say — personal action.

Janet Murguía is the president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza.

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