Latino Media to White House: Immigration Reform Now!

Note: President Obama announced last week that he expects Congress to propose a comprehensive immigration reform bill in early 2013. Last Sunday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) announced renewed talks to bring back their own immigration reform bill. Immigration reform may be retaking center stage in national media, but in the country's Spanish-language newspapers, radio and TV programs, it has been the lead story for years.

Latino media are again taking the lead in the push for comprehensive immigration reform. The day after President Obama's reelection, an editorial in the Los Angeles-based Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión argued that Obama "owes" it to Latinos.

The election, editors write, showed that Obama's reelection was made possible thanks to the Latino vote, which can no longer be ignored in the path to the White House.

"Obama owes Latinos a debt," the editorial argues. "We hope that the White House proposes an immigration bill and that GOP lawmakers take the opportunity to earn brownie points with the Latino community with a reasonable, positive law."

Editors contend that the Republican Party needs to support immigration reform in order to gain back the votes of Latinos.

"The question," they write, "is whether the GOP understands that it needs to adapt how its message is communicated, and in part also the content, to recover the ground lost among Hispanics. Passing comprehensive immigration reform in Congress would be a good step in that direction."

Univision anchor Jorge Ramos makes a similar argument in a column titled, "How to Lose an Election," writing that Republicans must lead the effort for immigration reform in 2013.

The future of the GOP, he says, depends on it.

"As the party moves forward," Ramos writes, "it needs to rally behind more moderate members like Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida and a potential presidential candidate in 2016, who supports immigration reform and knows that without Hispanics, the GOP's future looks grim. Those Republicans who would prefer to carry on as usual need to take a hard look at the numbers ... If Republicans don't reach out to our community, their party is doomed."

Gaps and Failures

The way Rodrigo Cervantes, editor of Atlanta-based Mundo Hispánico, explains it, his newspaper, like many other Latino media, "has documented the gaps and failures of the current immigration system and how it has affected different communities and people -- not only immigrants, and not only undocumented immigrants."

A Nov. 8 editorial in Philadelphia's Spanish-language newspaper Al Día, for example, looks at the limits of the Obama administration's achievements, from health care to deferred action.

Al Día's post-election editorial questions "why undocumented immigrants have been wholly precluded from purchasing -- with their own money -- coverage from insurers in your plan ... Further, we wonder why undocumented young adults who are granted deferred action will not be given the ability to purchase health insurance from ACA pools either."

Editors also wonder why Obama has failed to push for the DREAM Act, and ignored the pleas of DREAMERs to issue an executive order to protect them. "And, no," editors note, "the deferred action you penned isn't anything comparable to an executive order, no matter how many times it is carelessly referred to in that way."

The editorial concludes: "We applaud [deferred action] while feeling it was a small, conveniently-timed band-aid on a wound that you are responsible for exacerbating.

"That wound is immigration, Mr. President. The hundreds of thousands of people you've deported; the tens of thousands of families you've separated with detention and deportation; the thousands of U.S. citizen children placed in foster care because of your deportation policy; and the yet-to-be-counted total of children that have been adopted out because their detained parents were judged to have 'abandoned' them -- these are our brothers, sisters, children, parents, friends and acquaintances -- and your immigration legacy so far.

"You've said we can do a lot, together, in four years. We agree. And we'll hold you and your party to it."

A Bit of History

Latino media's role at the forefront of the immigration reform movement should come as no surprise; the sector has a history of defending the rights of its community and immigration reform is no exception.

John Esparza, editor of Vida en Valle, in Fresno, Calif., says his newspaper has taken a stand in support of comprehensive immigration reform since the mid-1990s, when communities began to express concern about Proposition 187, the California ballot measure that sought to prohibit undocumented immigrants from using social services.

The newspaper's long tradition of advocating for immigration reform is a reflection of its location and the community it serves. "The heart of our distribution area is the San Joaquín Valley," Esparza explains, "where farm production leads the nation thanks to a largely undocumented workforce."

In 2006, Spanish-language radio was credited with urging many Latinos to take to the streets in the Labor Day immigrant rights marches, where millions of people protested the Sensenbrenner Bill in cities across the country.

Latino TV, radio, newspapers, magazines and online media have not spared President Obama in their criticism of U.S. immigration policy.

Latino media have taken the Obama administration to task for deporting a record number of undocumented immigrants; allowing immigration detention facilities that had inadequate medical care and poor conditions to remain open; enforcing policies such as Secure Communities that lead to deportation and detention of non-criminals; and a system of detention and deportation that separated families and left thousands of children in foster care.

On the state level, Latino media have also been at the forefront of the pushback against a wave of unprecedented state laws that took a hard line on illegal immigration, from Arizona's SB 1070 to similar laws in Georgia, Alabama, Indiana, Utah and South Carolina.

When Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law HB 87, for example, Georgia's state immigration law, Atlanta Spanish-language newspaper MundoHispánico was published with a blank cover. In an accompanying editorial, editors wrote that the blank cover reflected the mood of the community and demonstrated their silent rejection of the state immigration law.

"It is my belief that journalism follows that principle of public service: to alert the structures of power on how a bad decision that they take can affect, denigrate or prejudice others," MundoHispánico editor Rodrigo Cervantes explains.

Voices for Reform Growing Louder

"I don't necessarily see support for immigration reform as growing, but rather getting louder," says Esparza of Vida en el Valle. "The United Farm Workers has been working with the Nisei Farmers League and other agricultural organizations to push for immigration reform since 2005. That is a remarkable achievement considering the past history of the UFW and [agriculture]. DREAMers have added to that louder voice."

Esparza says his publication continues to push for comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, including farmworkers and DREAMers; a visa program that provides safeguards for guest workers so that they are not abused; family reunification; and establishment of an immigration program that avoids the pitfalls of the 1986 Immigration and Reform Control Act.

The last push for comprehensive immigration reform, however, resulted in a ratcheting up of enforcement and deportations, without any of these reforms.

The question this time is whether these efforts will be successful.

Additional reporting by Suzanne Manneh.

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