Ruben Navarrette Jr.: Latino caucus veers off course on immigration

Published: Sunday, Jul. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 5E
Last Modified: Monday, Jul. 15, 2013 - 8:25 am

Sometimes, the best way to lead is to dissent.

Take the case of Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, a first-term member of Congress who represents a district along the U.S.-Mexico border. Recently, Vela resigned from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to protest the group's support for the Senate immigration bill, which would further militarize the border. Vela thinks this would be a big mistake, and that the caucus should never have given its blessing.

Let me introduce you to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. It's a kind of support system for 27 Hispanic Democratic lawmakers from the House and Senate, who meet regularly to hash out legislative priorities.

Sadly, over the years, the group has been co-opted and often puts the interests of Democrats before the interests of Hispanics. Members are terrified of bucking the tide and putting their cushy jobs at risk. They go along to get along.

Consider education reform. Hispanic civil rights groups supported No Child Left Behind, the education law that increased the accountability of schools, teachers and administrators to enhance the academic performance of socially disadvantaged students – including many Hispanics. Meanwhile, the Hispanic caucus trumpeted the Democratic Party line criticizing a "one-size-fits-all approach" and pushed for more school funding with fewer strings attached.

Why? Follow the money. The nation's teachers unions, who fervently oppose accountability measures, give millions of dollars to Democratic candidates.

It's a shame. At this point, most members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus couldn't find their way back to their core principles, or the reasons they ran for office, with a compass and a map.

They're really far off course with their support for the Senate immigration bill – drafted by the "Gang of Eight," amended to militarize the border, and supported by congressional Democrats and the White House.

The measure is heavy on fencing and Border Patrol agents and light on common sense. The legislation is more than 1,000 pages long and full of pork having nothing to do with immigration. It is also stuck on the lame idea that we can enforce our way to a better immigration policy, that if we deploy enough sentries and build a wall tall enough and long enough, it'll stop illegal immigrants in their tracks. Good luck with that.

The principled thing would be to oppose this bill. Yet, out of party loyalty, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus endorsed it.

The group also blew a kiss to President Barack Obama, the most anti-immigrant president since Dwight Eisenhower, who ordered Mexican workers loaded onto railway cars in Operation Wetback in 1954. Before a recent meeting at the White House between Obama and caucus chairman Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, Hinojosa released a statement praising the president as "a great partner in the fight to reform our broken immigration system."

If this congressional gig doesn't work out, Hinojosa ought to write fiction. Obama has been more of a silent partner who has never shown real interest in immigration reform. He likes enforcement. His administration has deported nearly 2 million illegal immigrants, divided hundreds of thousands of families and racked up countless detentions.

According to data obtained by the Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center through the Freedom of Information Act, federal officials from 2008 to 2012 held 1,366 immigrant minors for three days or more in adult detention centers. Of that number, 371 minors were held between a month and three months, and 19 were held even longer.

It's the policy of Immigration and Customs Enforcement not to hold minors in adult facilities for more than 72 hours. This all took place mostly on Obama's watch.

If the Senate bill – or anything close to it – becomes law, we can expect the nightmares to continue.

House Speaker John Boehner has decided not to take on the Senate bill but rather start from scratch with a House bill that would no doubt parrot much of the language on border security.

The Hispanic caucus should have taken a stand against this rightward lurch. It didn't. Another failure.

So I hereby make a motion to disband the Congressional Hispanic Caucus as irrelevant, pointless and woefully out-of-step with its own constituents. Can I get a second?

Reach Ruben Navarrette at ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

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Read more articles by Ruben Navarrette Jr.



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