The raids the Obama administration has unleashed on Central American refugees are growing more reprehensible by the week. U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agents have begun targeting high school-aged students for deportation who fled violence in their home countries.
That’s the case of Honduran David Guillén Acosta, a 19-year-old living in North Carolina who was arrested last week as he left for school one morning.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were waiting outside Guillen Acosta's Durham home and took him into custody.
The notion that our government is targeting kids and others fleeing violence for deportation is abhorrent morally, as I have noted in previous articles. But there’s another part of Guillén Acosta’s arrest that has real political implications almost no one is taking into consideration.
Hector Guillen said he watched from inside his home as his son was arrested because he feared that his other children might be taken into custody as well if he went outside.
The family is now keeping the other children at home, and Durham Public Schools officials said they are aware of other concerned Latino families also not sending their children to class for fear they will be deported.
The story here is the fear that keeps a father from opening the door—not for his own preservation but for that of his other children. The reason Guillén Acosta was targeted by ICE is that he illegally crossed the border after May 2014, which made him (and presumably his siblings too) a priority for deportation under the Department of Homeland Security guidelines issued in November 2014. That puts the kids in this instance at greater risk for deportation than their parents, who have been living in the U.S. for four years.
But more to the point—what most Americans have underestimated is the extent to which undocumented immigrants now feel they are living in a police state. You don’t open doors for people you don’t know. You don’t go outside if at all possible. And even if you are a legal resident or citizen, you certainly don’t engage politically if anyone in your household is at risk of deportation.
For many Latinos, including those eligible to vote, their energy is now devoted to protecting the people in their charge rather than electing someone president. This isn’t just a hypothetical, it actually played out on the ground in advance of the Iowa caucuses. Though the Spanish-to-English translation of this article is a bit rough, the gist comes through loud and clear. Iowa-based immigration activist Monica Reyes told Univision that, prior to the caucuses, some immigrants stopped opening their doors to canvassers for fear that they might be ICE agents in disguise.
Just stop to think for a second what kind of a chilling effect this could have on GOTV efforts during a general election in which Democrats have a natural and obvious edge with Latino voters.
The Latino voting bloc should indeed be a boon for Democrats in 2016, with Pew recently issuing a report projecting that the number of “eligible” Latino voters will be 40 percent higher come November than it was in 2008.
But “eligible” doesn’t translate into anything if they don’t ever get to the polls. The second part of that Pew report included a look at the challenge of getting the glut of new eligible Latino voters to actually vote.
As the number of Latino eligible voters has reached new highs with each election, so has the number of Latino voters. In 2008, a then-record 9.7 million Latinos voted, rising to 11.2 million in 2012. But one other statistic has also consistently reached new highs—the number of Latinos who do not vote. In 2008, a then-record 9.8 million Latino eligible voters did not vote. That number rose to 12.1 million in 2012, despite record turnout of Latino voters. [my emphasis in bold]
The polling firm Latino Decisions did an analysis of how the mobilization of those potential Latino voters could have impacted certain congressional, gubernatorial, and presidential races over the last several election cycles. As noted by the yellow highlighted areas, the undermobilization of that bloc has cost Democrats in a number of races.
So while Latino voters could absolutely help provide Democrats a decisive boost in many of the above states, doing anything to undercut Latino participation could also result in a tragic missed opportunity, especially given the immigrant bashing Republican field.
And right now, this renewed emphasis on deportation in the midst of a critical election year threatens to depress turnout in two ways: those too afraid to open their doors and those who have become disaffected by the record-high number of deportations on President Obama’s watch (even though they have fallen in recent years).
NPR reporter Natasha Haverty filed an immigration story last week featuring a conversation in which New Hampshire resident Jocelyn Villavicencio tries to convince Jose Inaya to overcome his disappointment with Obama and vote in the 2016 election.
INAYA: I voted twice for him because of the same thing. He let me down. […]
JOCELYN: So you're saying you're going to give up.
INAYA: Nothing gets accomplished.
JOCELYN: No, no, no, are you saying you're going to give up? […]
HAVERTY: Jose tries to remind [Jocelyn] of the 2 million people deported under Obama, all the protests he says led nowhere.
INAYA: What did he accomplish? What did we accomplish?
The Obama administration is wrong on this issue morally, first and foremost—we are deporting many of these Central American women and children to near-certain violence and some to their deaths.
But the administration is also wrong on this politically. 2016 is no time to be reminding Latino voters of the deportation rates that prompted their leaders to dub President Obama the “deporter-in-chief.” Even if that’s a legacy he’s comfortable cementing, it’s not one he should be burdening the Democratic nominee with.
The Republicans have dug their own grave on Latino issues. Let’s not give them an escape route by driving down participation among voters who are essential to 2016.