In Defense Of Javier Palomarez

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<p>Walking with USHCC President and CEO Javier Palomerez to endorse Hillary Clinton on <a href="">CNN</a> at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland.</p>

Walking with USHCC President and CEO Javier Palomerez to endorse Hillary Clinton on CNN at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Photo by Erika Therwhanger

If you cooperate with him

Burn in hell. That was the central argument that Washington Post syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette made in a piece last week:

Attention, Trump’s Latino enablers. You’re on notice. If you help the president shaft us, history will not be kind. And your betrayal will be neither forgiven nor forgotten.

This is true. However, the target of his op-ed was Javier Palomarez and the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC). That’s where Ruben went a bridge too far.

Full Disclosure: Javier is my friend. USHCC is my client. My firm is responsible for their television booking. I spent much of 2016 at the center of our election messaging. That’s me in the background over Javier’s left shoulder in the screenshot below.

CNN "New Day" with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota

The morning this photo was taken in Cleveland we endorsed Hillary Clinton at the Republican National Convention. The Huffington Post called it an epic act of trolling; but it was more than that. The endorsement was our community, for once, refusing to be sidelined, walking straight into the belly of the beast, and raising hell on behalf of our future in this country. To Navarrette, the endorsement was Javier and the USHCC going “all in for Hillary Clinton”. Like so much of Ruben’s ill-conceived column last week, this assertion is wholly untrue.

In fact, the USHCC was never big on Hillary Clinton and, as Javier told The Guardian, Hillary’s campaign was never too big on the USHCC. The organization did, however, go all-in against Donald Trump. In fact, we opposed Trump more-publicly and more-boldly than any Hispanic group had ever opposed any presidential candidate in my three decades living as an immigrant in the United States. We are fearless in the way we have our community’s back.

This was a big deal. For too long, Hispanic groups have been timid in the fight against xenophobia and the protection of our immigrant communities. There were moments, sure, like when the great NCLR chief Janet Murguia finally had enough of President Obama's absurd and unnecessary deportation policies and labeled him "Deporter-in-Chief”. The name stuck, like a steaming pile of evil on the legacy of an otherwise outstanding presidency. But no one -- and I mean, no one -- had ever taken the Hispanic fight to the top of mainstream American political consciousness the way Javier Palomarez did last year.

All of this is lost in Navarrette's assertion that the USHCC “now fills the same role as a dozen Latino civil rights organizations: a self-serving one.” This is utter nonsense. First of all, the USHCC is mostly an American business organization that dabbles in civil rights -- not a civil rights organization looking to fit into someone else’s movement. As such, USHCC have helped innumerable Hispanic-owned business (including mine) prosper in America. For example, as the organization’s VP of Communications last year, I personally forged and oversaw a partnership with Facebook, Inc., that trained over a thousand Hispanic-owned small businesses on how to use the platform to boost their businesses using the platform. This is the sort of thing the USHCC does … help Hispanic businesses get launched and grow despite all of the statistics.

That’s not to say the USHCC business-first focus lacks compassion for immigrants. On the contrary, in every conversation I’ve been a part of between Javier and the Trump administration, Javier has opened with a stern, consistent advocacy on behalf of immigrant communities and in particular, our Dreamers.

But that's neither here nor there to Navarrette, a great Republican columnist who seems to hate Trump as much as I do; who usually gets it right when it comes to issues of Hispanic affairs in this country; but who barked up the wrong tree this week with a flawed argument born of a pile of fake news.

Indeed, Navarrette implies that the Hispanic chamber pushed some sort of pay-to-play deal when they met with Donald Trump last year. In fact, the organization did not meet last year with Donald Trump, at all. That’s the first major fake news accusation Navarrette makes in his column. In fact, the USHCC met with Trump a year before, shortly after he launched the Make America Great Campaign at Trump Tower in 2015.

As Javier made clear at the time, Donald Trump’s accusations about pay-to-play were completely false. The organization never asked Donald Trump for any money, but did invite him to speak as part of their candidate series during the presidential primaries. When candidate Trump tried to change the rules of the forum, through shenanigans like limiting the press that would have access to it, Javier quickly pulled the plug and uninvited the candidate. These are the facts. To imply the USHCC asked Trump for money is untrue and irresponsible.

Here’s another fact: regardless of the presidency, when Hispanic voices are completely excluded from decisions that affect our community, we get screwed. Put more-eloquently by Cristobal Alex of the Latino Victory Project, "When you're not at the table, you're on the menu.”

At the White House, there is no doubt that Hispanics are on the menu and have been for nearly a decade. Under Obama, we were betrayed with promises of immigration reform that became a deportation apocalypse at the border. By all accounts, Hispanics remain on the menu as Donald Trump seeks to complete the cruel and targeted work Obama’s administration began against immigrant communities with a buckshot approach to rounding up our immigrant friends and neighbors in communities throughout the broader United States.

During Obama's presidency, there were Hispanic organizations who were at the table. Some said they were complicit in Obama’s deportation agenda. I, too, fell into that camp of accusations for a time until I realized that when our undocumented friends and neighbors were detained, there were avenues for overruling Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in specific cases by appealing directly the executive office of the president in the White House. In other words, if you knew who to call in or around the Oval Office, you could save immigrant families from being ripped apart. On the other hand, if you were not connected at the top, your detained undocumented friends were mostly doomed.

Moreover, during the Obama presidency, there were good cops and bad cops in the immigration fight. For example, to Obama and his staffers responsible for immigrant and refugee policy, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, a faith-based organization of legal warriors for deportation defense where, as of late last year, Javier serves on the board of directors, were good cops. As such, they were invited to meet with relevant bureaucrats to discuss the concerns of immigrants and refugee communities.

On the other hand, the bad cops to the Obama administration were certain Dreamers, like the DRM Action Network, who refused to settle for the lies the administration offered to substantiate their betrayal of immigrant families and Hispanic communities. Groups like these would stage everything from rallies to end family detention, to the bold and direct heckling of the president, first lady, and other administration folks who they saw as complicit in Obama’s deportation agenda.

Under the Trump presidency, the good cops and bad cops have shifted. To the White House, Javier is a good cop. In fact, I’d venture to say that Javier and the USHCC have more access to the White House than any Hispanic leaders or organizations had during the Obama presidency. They meet directly with the president, Reince Priebus, and other top administration officials with real power -- not through Hispanic middle-men and middle-women with big titles but no real power or influence in the Oval Office. USHCC’s women leaders meet directly with Ivanka, another emerging power player in the Washington scene who, rumor has it, unlike Steve Bannon, has no quarrel with immigrant communities.

Ultimately, it's leaders like Javier Palomarez and Nina Vaca, those who have come from the bottom-up to be connected from the top-down, that our nation of immigrants needs to maintain access with a White House that is clearly hostile to Hispanic immigrants. Without them, who are we going to call when ICE detains or otherwise harasses our loved ones, our neighbors, on a bloodthirsty mission to continue ripping our families apart as they have now en masse for nearly a decade.

Moreover, it’s leaders like Ruben Navarrette who need to get their facts straight before attacking fellow Hispanics like crabs in a barrel.

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