SAN DIEGO – When someone puts herself at risk to make a point, the rest of us might ask why she stuck her neck out. But she could just as well turn the question around and ask us why we stayed silent.
I asked Blanca Hernandez – a 31-year-old undocumented immigrant, “dreamer” and heckler – if that’s how she felt recently as security escorted her out of a swanky gala for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute where President Barack Obama was speaking.
“Exactly,” she told me. “I remember seeing people wave their hands and shout, ‘Get her out of here!’ And, I was thinking, ‘Why are you not getting up from your chairs and leaving with me?’”
What an excellent question.
Hernandez has a theory as to why more Hispanics don’t speak up about Obama’s record of immigration enforcement.
“If someone isn’t personally affected or [doesn’t] deal with this issue on a daily basis, then it’s impossible to understand because they’re not fully informed,” she said. “Also, some people forget where they come from.”
It’s sad, but true.
Here’s the message that Hernandez wanted to send to Obama, who was at the event to ask Hispanics to vote in the midterm elections: His dodging of the immigration issue is wearing thin with those who want to legalize the undocumented and end his deportation juggernaut.
Obama stalled immigration reform advocates earlier this year by promising that he’d take executive action to slow the removals before Labor Day – after denying for years that he had the power to do so. Then he broke his promise.
The president does have a few things going for him with Hispanics: Many of them are Democrats first, Hispanics second; many of the U.S.-born don’t care what happens to immigrants, especially the undocumented; and, as for Mexican-Americans, who are more likely to be swing voters than Puerto Ricans or Cubans, many are just glad to be invited to the party, and so they aren’t likely to make a scene.
Hernandez certainly didn’t get that memo. Born in Mexico but having lived in the United States since she was 6, she is well-educated, informed and outspoken. Having been granted a reprieve from deportation under the administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, she works as a paralegal at a Washington, D.C., firm that specializes in immigration law. Every day, she sees firsthand the wreckage of a broken system.
“People don’t understand what’s going on with all the deportations,” she said. “It’s ignorance. As a paralegal, I have mothers coming into the office crying, saying their husbands were deported. I mean, the humanity of it all. How can someone see that and not be angry at the injustice?”
Welcome to the immigration debate. When the injustice is being perpetrated by a Democratic administration, you’d be surprised how willfully blind some liberals can be.
Seated only about 50 feet from where the president was speaking, Hernandez said she knew she wouldn’t have a chance like this again.
Outside, pro-immigrant protesters were picketing Obama over his policies. She wanted to give them a voice.
“I knew [the president] was going to touch on DACA, and his decision not to take executive action,” she said. “And so when he said we’re not going to get into that conversation right now, that was my cue.”
Hernandez sprang to her feet and shouted at Obama: “What happened to change we can believe in?”
Obama tried to cut her off, saying “I’m about to get to that.”
But she kept going, shouting back: “Mr. President, stop the deportations! We need relief now!”
Obama responded by reassuring the crowd that he was not going to give up the fight for immigration reform.
Hernandez estimates that this tense exchange went on for about 30 seconds.
“It took security a while to get to me,” she said.
Her critics claim that it’s easy to heckle, and harder to make policy.
“This was not easy,” she insisted. “My heart was about to come out of my mouth. It’s not easy to confront a president. But nothing is easy. No amount of progress has ever come without putting up a fight.”
Now Hernandez is picking another fight – with U.S.-born Hispanics who have been way too accommodating toward Obama.
“They have come to identify more with the political structure than with their own (BEG ITAL)gente(END ITAL) 1 / 8people 3 / 8,” she said. “I would say to them, ‘You’ve parted ways with your community. Where does that leave your community? Why are you now one of the oppressors? Why are you identifying with the people who hurt your gente?”
Another excellent question. Hispanics shouldn’t try to silence this young woman. They ought to try to clone her.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.