Calling the Question: Why Cecilia Muñoz Is Not the Issue

There are real problems and there are distractions. The former require our undivided attention and focus but it's the latter that often make the morning headlines.

Recently, our partner and ally joined by some writers, took issue with a statement signed by CHIRLA and eighteen other organizations decrying the personal targeting of Cecilia Muñoz, President Obama's Director of Intergovernmental Affairs. Our open statement dated October 31, challenges the wisdom of singling out Muñoz demanding she "return to her advocacy roots" and to "renounce" her positions on Secure Communities and other deportation programs.

It seems the statement was misread by some, including Maegan Ortiz, publisher and managing editor of Vivir Latino, a news website. In a posting titled "How do you solve a problem like Cecilia?" (November 9, 2011) Ortiz goes for the jugular right from the start. Although her article is supposed to be about the reprehensible negative impact of blindly enforcing broken and unjust immigration policies by the Obama administration, Ortiz singles out Muñoz as the "once-fierce advocate" and slams her for "her complicity in sugarcoating the negative impact of Obama's immigration policies" on Latino and immigrant communities.

Ortiz, much like other critics, fails to distinguish between a player in a larger movement and the real problem -- absence of immigration reform and cowardly enforcement of broken immigration laws. Ortiz would lead us to believe that without Muñoz in the picture all would be well for immigrants as far as immigration enforcement is concerned. She is mistaken.

What happens next in Ortiz' article would be quite amusing were it not outright insulting. After praising "independent journalists and organizations" for targeting, even calling on Muñoz to resign, Ortiz goes on to slam "other, more mainstream Latino civil-rights organizations" for jumping to Muñoz' defense. Out of a long list of co-signing organizations and individuals which includes Dolores Huerta, Eliséo Medina, Janet Murguía, Anthony Romero, Gustavo Torres, and Petra Falcón, Ortiz places CHIRLA in the crosshairs of an illogical, uninformed, and unwarranted critique.

For the record: CHIRLA is a community-based organization based in Los Angeles founded in 1986 with a strong and transparent track record of organizing and advocating on behalf of the immigrant community. In spite of our long history of work, our budget and our funding remain relatively modest. As much as we would like, we still do not have access to President Obama's private line nor are we the recipients of gold-embroidered invitations to White House or Congressional dinners.

Since Ortiz questions our position on several issues, we should clarify that CHIRLA has been an enthusiastic proponent of the federal DREAM Act since its original introduction in 2001, AB540, one of the first in-state tuition bills enacted in the country, and the California Dream Act, which provides limited state aid to undocumented students to pursue higher education. And, we were intricately involved in ensuring lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families and individuals were respected and included in the various versions of immigration reform legislation that were introduced.

Had Ortiz bothered to call CHIRLA, we would have told her that we agree with her argument that "it's foolhardy for a community to pin its hopes on one of its own" now in a position of power and influence. Unfortunately, it is an argument that even she ignores as she blindly focuses her energy on singling out Muñoz and CHIRLA.

Had Ortiz taken the time to read in full CHIRLA's statement on Muñoz, she would have noted that we openly chide her for "defending the indefensible." We also fault "the President's indecision, soft leadership on immigration reform, and mistaken focus to please Republicans in Congress," and we call on his Administration to halt the human crisis reaching the one and a half million deportations. The full statement was posted on our website and on Facebook on October 31, 2011.

Had Ortiz taken the time to learn about CHIRLA, she would have read our take on DHS, ICE, and Secure Communities in a Huffington Post blog titled "A record as straight as immigration's broken promise" (August 17, 2011), where we likened ICE's fuzzy math to "Mark Twain's three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics." In the same story, we tell Muñoz that "S-Comm and other deportation machines are nothing to be 'proud' of. Shame is more accurate." Furthermore, we call on Muñoz and President Obama to "swallow egos, flip the switch and pull the plug on this Frankenstein," referencing the faulty SComm program.

CHIRLA's strong values-based ministry, which Ortiz opines has succumbed to influence, access, "political favors or funding," has never been and will never be for sale. Our work is rooted in our mission and vision of a nation where immigrants are welcomed, appreciated, and respected; regardless of who is president and how many Cecilia Muñoz's serve as intermediaries. Guided by our membership priorities, CHIRLA has never been shy to question, challenge, or demand changes in local, state, or federal policies we judge harmful to our community. At times, we must confess, we have done the unthinkable: sit at the table across from friends and foes alike and we will continue to do so when it advances our collective agenda.

Still, in spite of our organization's hard work, and the work of many other allies and supporters, on behalf of more honest and humane immigration policies, we are far from winning a major fight on the immigration reform front. Elected or appointed leaders come and go, but our issues remain unresolved. With or without Muñoz, we face innumerable challenges moving forward. Muñoz just happens to be a strong ally of the immigrant community and a consistent voice of reason within the Obama administration and we have worked with her in the past and will continue to work with her in the future. She is but one voice, however, where many more are needed to convince a stubborn Congress and a frightened White House that change is needed.

That is why talk of resignation, retraction, and silly questioning of CHIRLA's intentions and values, is of lesser importance to the immigrant community than proactive, timely, and common-sense solutions. CHIRLA will not stop pressuring our policy makers, elected leaders, and their staffers to provide our community with answers, not just lip service. We will be passionate and use forceful advocacy when needed never forgetting to be respectful and compassionate as we expect others to be with our community.

To us, the most pressing issue is not Cecilia Muñoz, it is President Obama, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, ICE Director John Morton, and a gutless Congress. The real question is, how will we, together as a diverse community, work with Congress and the White House to approve just, humane, and sensible fixes to our broken immigration system before any more lives are disrupted, families separated, and dreams crushed. We think that's also the most pressing concern for and writers like Ortiz.