Forum Left, 6/19

Neighbors Have No Borders

By Jolene Pohl

We live in a country with detention camps. Young people innocent of crime are held in these camps and sent away without regard to their safety or well-being. This is the country we have lived in for decades. Ironically, a discussion about the National Defense Authorization Act has taken over many online blogs and Occupy General Assemblies because American citizens were shocked to hear that the government would consider detaining anyone in our country for no legitimate reason. Yet, it has been happening every day to small business owners, to students, to community leaders. The population most affected has been considered the invisible oppressed. As long as the problem of detention and deportation was a “foreigners” problem, the general population remained apathetic to the severe pain inflicted by the government on their own neighbors. But now it is election season and the tides are changing. Suddenly, the activist push by the invisible people has been felt and the Obama administration realizes that a warm immigration policy is the only way to reassure a faltering Hispanic base that they indeed are children of the United States.

The phrase “I am an American” may not resonate as deeply with the majority population in our country as much as it does with Hispanics. Generations of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban and various South American individuals have battled discrimination against the idea that their origin automatically makes them outsiders to our nation. Despite the immense progress made toward strengthening our country, the discrimination continues and it has been strongly executed in the recent immigration battle in Congress.

The message sent by Congressional members when the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act was defeated was contempt for immigrants, specifically the majority population of immigrants who are Hispanic. By voting down the Act in the name of idealistic Republican partisanship, Congress discounted the lives of immigrant families seeking to fulfill their dreams and their contributions to the nation. Republicans and conservatives smugly reconciled this contempt by deeming the “No” vote as a security measure. What country are they protecting, though? Certainly, not a country that freed slaves or fought wars in the name of freedom, because a country like that would not be interested in preventing young people from achieving their own American dreams.

The fallen Act is a thorn in the side of all politicians this year, including Mitt Romney (a man raised in Mexico) who had little to say about immigration prior to the announcement last week from Janet Napolitano. The number of those affected by the threat of deportation is in the millions, estimated by the Pew Hispanic Center to be approximately 1.4 million undocumented youths. Those numbers would be idiotic to ignore, even by Republican standards. The issue gained more steam as protestors became better organized in time for campaign season. Some activists had even begun to occupy the offices of the Obama campaign. If Romney were more inclined he may have thought to stand up to his party’s partisan lines and ask for consideration for compromise. But, he made his choice to be on the incorrect side of the debate and let President Barack H. Obama take the lead. There will be little his campaign can do to erase this fact from the minds of families of those young people who faced deportation.  But there is still hope for his choices when it comes to policy changes. The DREAM Act is still on the table. It could be possible that Romney will, at the very least, be willing to have a conversation about the detention and deportation of young people in our country.

So the action by the President has set the stage for the Democratic Party to once again be the only brave, solid voice of reason in Washington D.C. The stipulations of the new policy are hardly an over-step of executive power but the conservatives will try to play the card of an imperial president. It appears that political jujitsu, to quote a recent TIME story, by the Obama administration has begun. If the conservatives aren’t paying close enough attention to their constituents and their opposition it will happen again. This makes my liberal heart beat with excitement, of course. Even more exciting than winning the popularity contest in this country is the news that the immigrant population is no longer going to be taken for granted. Many people refer to our country as a diverse melting pot of cultures and ideas but this reality still has a very long way to go for us all to be able to embrace one another like neighbors, sharing our lives instead of as strangers who are suspect of one another. The President has yet again pushed our country toward a healthier version of itself.

Jolene Pohl is a dedicated Dayton democrat volunteer/activist and a WSU grad student. Her favorite past-times include banter, debate and laughing out loud. She can be reached at JolenePohl@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Current Graduate student at Wright State University. I should finish a Master's of Humanities by fall 2012. I am originally from Cleveland, Ohio but my heart belongs with half of my family in New Mexico! "We are only as strong as the weakest link." You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter @DemWSU AND Google+

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