This has been a disorienting week for immigrants around the country, and justifiably so.
Immigrant communities are scrambling for answers after reports have surfaced of ICE raids in various U.S. cities, the detention of Dreamers like Daniel Ramirez Medina in Seattle and the deportation of parents of U.S. citizens like Guadalupe Garcia De Rayos of Arizona. While recent DHS guidelines indicate that DREAMers will be protected - which I applaud - these guidelines also give alarming mixed-signals and expanded discretion to a growing number of immigration enforcement officers.
Let me be clear, I have publicly commended the President after his decision to reinstate the Mexico City Rule and I applauded President Trump’s intention to dismantle the Johnson Amendment. I celebrated when just two hours after a meeting we had with the administration in December, the President issued a statement promising to “work something out” with respect to Dreamers. I have been honored to work with this administration when called upon and I will continue do so as asked.
But, I have also been expressly clear, both privately with the administration as well publicly in recent interviews, that I cannot and will not condone or defend any immigration policy that tears families apart.
In keeping with that pledge, last week I issued a statement urging President Trump to more clearly define and confine his immigration enforcement policies to only target violent criminals—such as drug dealers, murderers and gang members—who pose a clear and immediate threat to public safety. To deport the undocumented parents of U.S. children represents an affront to the sanctity of life and our shared American values.
The case of Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos is certainly complicated, and to claim otherwise is contrary to the facts. Nearly a decade ago, during a workplace raid, Garcia de Rayos was convicted of criminal impersonation, a class 6 felony. In other words, she used a stolen Social Security number to gain employment. She had also been using a stolen Resident Alien Card number. Garcia de Rayos pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years probation and community service.
While common among undocumented immigrants, it’s important for the Hispanic community to acknowledge that these are not victimless crimes. Identity theft can impact the victim’s tax history and credit scores for years. It also has an aggregate effect on all of us in the form of higher credit card fees, interest rates and even the distribution of tax dollars. We are a country of laws and when immigrants break laws it put the immigrant and our broader community at risk.
But hers was not a repeat violation and demonstrated no malicious intent whatsoever. While there should be consequences for her crime—for which she did receive two years probation and community service—she was simply working to provide for her family.
Furthermore, the family she was providing for includes two children, both of which are U.S. citizens. This is the crux of the issue! You can argue, as some have, that children of undocumented immigrants should not be given birthright citizenship, but that is not the way the Fourteenth Amendment, nor the prevailing laws of the land are interpreted or applied. This interpretation of the law has been supported by countless court decisions.
So where then, does this leave us?
A strict interpretation of the administration’s executive order would absolutely tear apart loving families, throwing the futures of thousands of American children into dangerous uncertainty. Not only would this be among the most destructive policies ever enacted by the U.S. government, it would also result in an incredible burden for the state. Countless American children would be rendered parentless, leaving local officials and taxpayers responsible for their care and wellbeing. This is a lose-lose scenario with potentially horrific consequences.
But, here’s the problem: our elected officials, unless they are latinos, largely do not understand the experiences of our community.
Our community is very good at protesting injustice. We have been doing it all week, but we are not so good at real, political action. We have to educate our congressmen on the actual implications of this order, and we have to help them find better solutions. We have to call their offices and show up in Washington DC. We have to walk through the halls of the U.S. Capitol. We cannot expect them to ignore the law, but we can help them improve it.
Protesting without concrete action only causes more noise, and more controversy. Each side will dig in their heels, and - in the end - it can hurt us more than help us. We must meet our protesting with equal political action. One - without the other - is insufficient.
As America’s fastest growing minority community we need to learn to work the system in our favor, and to persuade legislators one-by-one to be on our side. For every 10 of us raising a sign on a street corner there ought to be 100 of us walking up and down the corridors of power meeting with those who might actually take action in our favor if they understood the issues and knew we cared enough to show up in their offices to explain them to them.
We need to keep our children in their high schools, universities and law schools getting trained to fight for another generation (and off the streets), and we need to lead by example … dusting off our suits and ties and showing up. The fight of black civil rights in this country involved sit-ins, protests and symbolic actions, for sure. But, it was more than that. It involved hard, smart political and legislative, action.
This week, we’ve been very loud, but I’m not sure we’ve been very effective. It’s not for a lack of power. We’re too big to be ignored.
It will be for a lack of strategy if we are left behind. Join me in calling upon our elected officials to quickly correct course before more families are hurt.
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Faith and Education Coalition is an initiative of the National Hispanic Christian Leaders Conference (NHCLC). With 2,568 members representing almost 3,000 local churches in 44 states, the Faith and Education Coalition advocates for high-quality education options for all of America’s children.