Obama’s Katrina

A recent influx of immigrant children from South American countries has swamped immigration detention centers. Many of the children that are flooding into the United States are escaping the ever-growing gang violence and other economic disparities in their home countries. Although they come seeking a better life or to reunite with their family in the United States, the majority are apprehended by immigration officers before reaching the promise land.

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Chronic understaffing and lack of funding have led these detention centers, such as the one pictured above in Texas, to be overcrowded, leading to shortages of food and cramped holding cells. These centers are meant to detain the immigrant children until the government decides what to do with them, with many of the children hoping to receive refugee status. Since last October, over 52,000 unaccompanied minors have participated in the mass exodus to the United States. The journey is a long and treacherous one, and these children often have to ride on top of trains, traverse scorching deserts, and avoid cartel members and kidnappers.

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Immigrants riding on top of trains.

 

These childrens’ ambitions are fueled by, Republican’s say, President Obama’s lax immigration policies. Such policies include the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which halted the deportation of many people under the age of 31 who entered the United States before the age of 16. What this law also did is give many of these previously undocumented immigrants legal right to work in this country as well as the ability to obtain a driver’s licence and qualify for in-state tuition at universities. What it didn’t do is give the individuals lawful immigration status or provide a path to citizenship.

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Immigrants crossing the Sonora desert in Arizona.

Despite overwhelming support from Hispanics and Latinos, President Obama has stalled at pushing immigration reform and, as mentioned earlier, has deported close to 2 million immigrants. His popularity amongst Hispanic and Latino voters has decreased from 73% post 2012 election to 54% in April. This is compared to the national approval rate of . This decrease can be attributed to the sense of betrayal amongst Latinos and Hispanics. While the Latino vote helped President Obama secure both his first and second term in office, President Obama has done very little on immigration reform. This can also partially be blamed on the inaction of Congressional Republicans, who have stalled on immigration reform since Bush was in office.

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The influx of unaccompanied immigrant children has been called a humanitarian disaster by many, with some going as far as to call this President Obama’s Katrina moment. This is because despite the on-going crisis, President Obama has yet to visit one of these detention centers, much like President Bush didn’t visit New Orleans in the wake on hurricane Katrina.

This sudden influx in the number of immigrants entering the United States has led to rising tensions between pro-and anti-immigration protesters. Many of these clashes have taken place outside of detention centers, such as the the one in Murrieta, California. This past 4th of July weekend, anti-immigration protesters awaited the arrival of undocumented immigrants. Buses transporting these immigrants did not arrive, instead arriving at a center in near-by San Ysidro.

Protesters outside of Murrieta, California detention center
Protesters outside of Murrieta, California detention center

Despite the passage of both this law and partisan comprehensive immigration reform on behalf of President Obama and the Senate respectively, Speaker John Boehner has refused to bring any immigration reform to the floor. This effectively kills any chances of immigration reform any time in the near future. It looks like our government is going to continue to do these little compromises, such as DACA, instead of passing the comprehensive immigration reform that has been long needed in this country.

There are currently 38.5 million immigrants in this country, with 11 million undocumented immigrants (although some suggest the number may be as high as 30 million). 46.9% of these immigrants are of Hispanic or Latino origins, with 29.8% coming from Mexico alone. The broken immigration system has led many families to be torn apart when a parent or both get deported to their home countries. This poses a difficult decision on undocumented parents of American-born children: do take their children back to their home country with them? Or leave them here, where they have a much more stable and promising future?

This is a topic that hits close to home, as I immigrated with my parents and siter to the United States at the age of 5. We came here on Visas,which have since expired. Until President Obama passed DACA into law last year, I was unsure on how was I going to be be able to pursue my college education and was worried about my future in this country. While we Dreamers aren’t out of the woods just yet (the government can kick us out of the country whenever they see fit), DACA did give us some breathing room as well as a spark of hope.

The anti-immigrant rhetoric in this country is as strong as it was during the early 20th century. Some, including Republican Congressman Raul Labrador, have even advocating deporting entire families to assuage the crisis.

What does spewing anti-immigrant rhetoric often fail to realize is that American foreign policies are often partially to blame for the instability and disparity that has fueled this immigration crises. American actions such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and political turmoil at the hands of the CIA have led Latin and South Americans to live in poverty and in fear of constant gang violence. NAFTA alone forced some 2 million off their farms when they could no longer make a living. It has also led to “food poverty”; 25% of the Mexican population does not have access to basic food.

What these anti-immigration advocates also forgot is that this country was built by immigrants. Everything from the railroads of the West by the Chinese, to the European immigrants who built the great cities of New York, Boston, and Chicago. Even nowadays, immigrants are still a vital pillar of American society. We grow most of the produce in American grocery stores among other things. We take the jobs no one else in society wants to do, yet are still needed. We are you neighbors, your friends. I go to school with your children. All we ask is for some decency and compassion. Many of us came here seeking the fabled American dream, but instead, we are faced with an American nightmare.

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