Latinos deserve real consideration this Hispanic Heritage Month

By Jose Miguel Leyva, September 21, 2012

This year marks the 25th annual Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, but we’re still being taken for granted by politicians of both parties.

Despite campaign promises four years ago, the Obama administration has done little to ensure the kind of sweeping reforms the Latino community was led to expect.

During the first three years of his administration, President Obama deported 1.1 million immigrants. That’s way more than President George W. Bush deported in his first three years in office, and more than any president in his first term since the 1950s.

In a last minute effort to engender goodwill, Obama signed a directive last June to pass the DREAM Act by executive order. His order allowed some undocumented immigrants who came here when they were very little to stay in the country for a few more years so long as they’re going to college or entering the U.S. military and have had no run-ins with the law.

The Pew Research Center estimated that less than 40 percent of immigrants under age 30 would even potentially become eligible to benefit from the new rules around deportation. Many will be deemed ineligible simply for lacking a high school or GED diploma.

And we now find out that even young people who are allowed to stay in this country will not be offered insurance under Obama’s health care program because his administration axed them out of it.

It isn’t just the undocumented being targeted for deportation, either. Thousands of U.S. military veterans are fighting deportation, sometimes for decades-old misdemeanors that are suddenly being used to justify banishment from the homes they’ve fought to protect. One Texas family mourned the death this summer of its 55-year-old patriarch, who had been deported for an old misdemeanor record. This man, Manuel Castano, lost access to the Veterans Affairs medical treatments he needed for lupus. Nine months later, he died.

Obama has made no move towards correcting these kinds of wrongs, leaving many more families in limbo.

Latinos still favor the president today, but only because Mitt Romney has taken an even harsher approach on immigration. To the extent that he addresses Latinos, he is simply trying to cut into the Democrats’ base.

With so much posturing on both sides of the campaign aisle, it is easy to overlook the fact that Latinos are not simply props.

Hispanic Heritage Month should be a celebration of our place in this country, yet we must spend more time defending that place now than any other time of year. The month should prompt real discussions about the problems facing Latino communities. This is the time we should be addressing poverty, education and social reform.

Latinos deserve substantive actions, not the hollow promises of politicians trying to curry favor with us at election time.

Jose Miguel Leyva is a freelance writer and journalist living in El Paso, Texas. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.