Democrats Must Reckon with the over 3 Million Deportations

By: Adrian Reyna, Strategy Director, United We Dream Action

Democrats need to address, and not hide from the reality of the over 3 million people deported under the Obama administration.

There’s a saying, “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it,” which is exactly why voters need to hear Vice President Biden offer a more direct answer to the question Jorge Ramos asked during the last Democractic debate in Houston about the Obama administration’s immigration record.

It worries me that the Vice President sees defending Obama’s legacy as indistinguishable from defending the three million deportations that occurred during his presidency. Refusing to seriously address the damage done to immigrant communities during the Obama administration will significantly impact our ability to beat Donald Trump in the November 2020 elections.

After the debate the Biden campaign tweeted that “Attempts to compare President Trump and President Obama on immigration are far-fetched.” But it’s not immigrants or advocates who are making that comparison. We know the differences better than anyone. It is Trump himself who benefits from the denial Democrats have about Obama’s mass deportations record.

Trump and the Republicans know this is a weak point for Democrats. Trump is quick to equate his own deportation and mass incarceration agenda to Obama (and Biden’s) record. It’s a typical page in his playbook to put his opponents in a bind. But the way out isn’t by any Democrat flatly lying and defending the record of the past administration; it’s by making a case to the American public that we’ve learned from it and can expect a different future with justice for all immigrants.

Voters want a departure from the cruelty that has driven immigration policy under Trump. That’s why Jorge Ramos’ question during last month’s debate wasn’t, as Biden put it, “outrageous,” — each question was actually an opportunity for the Democratic front runners to break away from a painful past and chart a new path that is focused on welcoming and protecting immigrants.

Millions of lives were destroyed under what Biden described that night as “the best thing that was able to be done at the time.” He made it even worse when he falsely claimed that under their leadership they “didn’t lock people up in cages and didn’t separate families.”

In October 2015 ICE captured Jose Luis, a 24-year-old DACA applicant, father of a beautiful little girl, and construction worker from Tennessee. He was jailed in a detention camp in Louisiana for six months before being deported due to the Obama Administration’s policy on mandatory detention for marijuana related offenses, even though he still qualified for DACA.

In the worst case scenario, the Obama administration deported individuals like José Marvin Martínez to their death. After his brother was killed, José came to the United States seeking asylum because he feared for his life, but the Obama Administration denied his asylum application, and deported him to Honduras. Four months later, he was shot and killed. He was deported back to his death.

The human and political consequences of the Obama administration’s deportations were tragic. We are outspoken about it because we must bring justice to all of those people who have been victims to an ever growing deportation force. Latinx and immigrant voters want to hear this to have confidence that it will not happen again.

Simply put, we have three steps to victory.

First: Accept and acknowledge the harm that was done. As Julián Castro said in the first debate, show that we’ve learned the lessons of history.

Second: Break away from the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” framework entirely. “Comprehensive Immigration reform” is all about citizenship for a select few in exchange for mass detentions and deportations for everyone else.

And third: Chart a path forward that helps people without hurting people. Close the concentration camps, stop mass deportation agents and wasteful spending, and lead us to welcome and protect immigrants and refugees. That is why United We Dream Action joined with leading progressive organizations in releasing the #FreeToStay, #FreeToMove platform which calls for a new vision on immigration from all presidential candidates.

Democratic candidates have not only the opportunity, but the responsibility, to be a sharp contrast to the cruelty of the Trump administration. They can provide a clear vision of a more humane and better future. They can’t do that unless they’re honest and show they’ve learned from the past and what is happening now, and as Jorge Ramos asked, let us know that the future will be different. We’re ready and waiting to hear it.

UWD is the first and largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation & advocates for the dignity of immigrant families, regardless of immigration status.

UWD is the first and largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation & advocates for the dignity of immigrant families, regardless of immigration status.