From day one of his first campaign for President, Barack Obama promised a kinder, more humane treatment of undocumented migrant workers and their families. But his administration has been nothing short of brutal when it comes to his policies.
Some of those on the front lines fighting for comprehensive and humane immigration reform have started to refer to Obama as "Deporter in Chief." Jesus Guzman, an organizer from Northern California is among them.
Guzman is a 23-year-old program manager at the Graton Day Laborer Center and a member of the North Bay Community Organizing Project in Northern California. He was on the podium with Obama last week during a day of activities by Latino youth who were brought to the United States at a young age and have come to be known as the "Dreamers."
In a radio interview from Washington D.C., Guzman told the Flashpoints show on Pacifica Radio...
"It's very fitting, the name of the Deporter in Chief, because, as we mentioned, Obama is solely responsible for his administration's record rate of deportations. It's something George Bush could not accomplish, nor any other president before him.
"And we still have the deportation machinery in place ... through Secure Communities, through this collusion between local law enforcement and ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents and The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)."
And says Guzman, the Obama administration plays fast and loose with the facts. "Seven out of ten folks that are deported through Secure Communities," said Guzman, "have no convictions, or a minor offense. Yet when they [administration officials] talk about the deportation, they continually say that these are criminals, these are felons. The facts don't reflect that."
Pablo Alvarado, Director of the National Day Labor Organizing Network or NDLON, spent the last several weeks lobbying in Washington for humane and meaningful immigration reform. NDLON represents migrant workers all over the country. Alvarado agrees with Guzman, and paints a picture of the stark reality of the situation.
"It's always hopeful when the issue of migration is being discussed at the highest levels of government," Alvarado told me in an interview from Washington last week. "But usually when this issue is discussed here in D.C. it is the divorced from reality."
"At the same time that all these things were happening here in the capital," said Alvarado. "Eleven hundred people were being separated from their loved ones and being deported. That's the number, eleven hundred people a day. And the majority of the politicians do not understand the suffering that our community is going through."
NDLON, now with day-labor centers around the country, was formed to protect workers from abusive employers who often refuse to pay their workers and threaten them with exposure and deportation if they complain about being beaten or cheated. It is on the new cutting edge of immigrant worker rights.
Alvarado also refers to Obama as the Deporter in Chief:
"There is no other president that has deported as many people as President Obama has. The administration has a self-imposed quota, of four hundred thousand people a year. President Obama claims that he is deporting people who have committed horrible crimes, and he continues to equate the issue of immigration with crime, which is not what it is."
Alvarado is deeply concerned that politicians from the President on down are too far removed from the day-to-day struggle to feel the life and death urgency that so many undocumented people feel every day, when they pass a cop car, while driving without a license because they have no choice, or hear a knock on the door, or get a call from school from a principal who has just been contacted by the DHS.
"For these politicians," said Alvarado, "this quota is just another statistic but for our community, it's about our fathers, our mothers, our sons, daughters, nephews, nieces. Eleven hundred people will be deported by the end of the day today!"
"We need to remove the threat of deportation," he said, "to allow the undocumented people to fully participate in the debate. And if we remove the fear of deportation it will provide the safe space, the safe environment for immigrants to come forward and walk the halls of Congress, participating in shaping this debate."