Barack Obama

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Homeland Security Casts Wide Net Over Undocumented Immigrants

The new immigration enforcement directive casts a wide net over undocumented immigrants in the U.S. /ICE

The Department of Homeland Security Tuesday cast a wide net over undocumented immigrants in a new enforcement directive that broadened the categories of who is subject to  apprehension and potentially deportation.

The move is likely to exacerbate the fear and anxiety running through immigrant communities since Donald Trump was elected president.

One man at an immigration meeting with newly minted Congressman Darren Soto said it felt like “it’s attack after attack.”

The DHS directive is in response to a January 25 executive order by President Trump, titled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.”

Broad Categories

Because it is so broad just about anybody can be stopped, questioned, detained and deported, including undocumented immigrants who:

 (I) have been convicted of any criminal offense;

(2) have been charged with any criminal offense that has not been resolved;

(3) have committed acts which constitute a chargeable criminal offense;

(4) have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter before a governmental agency;

(5) have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits;

(6) are subject to a final order of removal but have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States;

or (7) in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.

Categories (2) and (3) make it clear that the directive doesn’t target only undocumented individuals convicted of a crime, as former President Barack Obama‘s previous priority did, but the undocumented can be detained and removed if they are charged but not yet convicted of a crime, a potential opening for lawyers to challenge as that provision may violate due process.

Shift in Approach

The directive represents a wholesale shift in thinking and approach about how to handle the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants in the U.S., many of whom are Latinos. Previous estimates indicated that fewer than 1 million undocumented immigrants remained in the country who had been convicted of crimes which made them deportable.

Under Obama’s eight-year administration, nearly 3 million undocumented immigrants were deported, an unprecedented number, prompting some critics to label him the “Deporter in Chief.”

The new enforcement action aims at all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States – with the exception of the undocumented children and parents who fall under Obama’s “deferred action” programs.

Exemption for DACA and DAPA

The exemptions of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for  Parental Arrivals (DAPA) are the sole bright spots in an otherwise bearish immigration enforcement directive.

DACA and DAPA beneficiaries total about 4 million.

To ensure enforcement, the directive also calls for hiring 5,000 additional Border Patrol 10,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, nearly doubling the current number and boosting the likelihood of a run-in with ICE.

Many Latinos – undocumented or not, citizen or permanent resident or not – have a higher chance of being stopped and questioned as immigration agents search for the undocumented among us.

Immigrant Profiling

Farmworker advocate Tirso Moreno likened it to a form of profiling during Congressman Soto’s immigration community meeting.  Moreno also raised the issue of potential “bullying in the streets” of people stopped at traffic signals, for instance.

“I realize it’s not going to be easy,” Soto replied.

Soto added that lawsuits are likely as there are “many institutions that are ready to step up,” referring to colleges and universities that have indicated they are not going to comply with immigration orders.

Miami-Dade County has taken the opposite course, as its County Commission voted last week to end its status as a sanctuary for immigrants and agreed to cooperate with federal immigration officials. Miami-Dade has the largest population of immigrants in Florida.

Florida Ranks Third in Undocumented Immigrants

According to Pew Research, Florida ranks third in the nation for undocumented immigrants,  placing the state behind California and Texas. The Center for Migration Policy estimates there are over 700,000 undocumented immigrants in Florida.

Plus, about two-thirds of those undocumented did not cross the southern border with Mexico, as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) has indicated. They entered the country legally but overstayed their visas, considered a civil offense.

About 66 percent of the nation’s undocumented immigrant adults have been in the country at least a decade, the Pew Research reported, making them long-term residents.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Obama Grants Clemency to Oscar López Rivera

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (l) with Oscar López Rivera (center) and Lopez’s brother Jose Lopez. Obama granted clemency to López Rivera this week. /Rep. Gutiérrez

Oscar López Rivera will go free after 35 years in prison, thanks to President Barack Obama’s order granting clemency to the 74-year old imprisoned on charges related to violent activities in support of Puerto Rico independence.

Community activists in Florida, New York and Puerto Rico had stepped up pressure on Obama – wrote, called, held marches – to draw attention to López Rivera.

The president issued the order Tuesday as part of commuting the sentences or pardoning a total of 273 individuals – 209 commutations and 64 pardons, according to the White House.

Clemency Not Pardon

López Rivera, however, was not pardoned for his bomb-making activities in connection with the FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional) that is believed to total over 100 bombings, six deaths and many others injured.

A clemency is not a pardon, which means López Rivera’s record is not wiped clean and his rights are not restored.

“These … individuals learned that our nation is a forgiving nation, where hard work and a commitment to rehabilitation can lead to a second chance, and where wrongs from the past will not deprive an individual of the opportunity to move forward,” according to the White House statement.

The Puerto Rican community reacted joyously to the news that López Rivera would be out of federal prison in May.

Read Orlando Latino‘s story on López Rivera here.

Below are reactions from local residents and members of Congress.

Sen. Bernie Sanders:

“I appreciate listening to Puerto Ricans and people worldwide who believe Oscar Lopez Rivera deserves a chance to enjoy his freedom.”

Congressman Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.):

“Estoy lleno de alegría y emoción. Oscar es un gran amigo, mentor, y miembro de mi familia…”

Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY):

“Pardon of is profoundly important for all Puerto Ricans. At long last, time for Oscar to come home. My profound thanks to for pardoning – an important and powerful move during last days in office.”

Congressman José Serrano (D-NY):

“Thankful to for listening to our community and putting an end to the imprisonment of after 35 years.

Congressman Darren Soto (D-Orlando):

‘We want to congratulate on his new freedom in May. We also want to thank for doing the right thing”.

Congressman Adriano Espaillat (D-NY):

“I commend on today’s decision to pardon , granting him freedom and a second chance.  has long served his time & now will return home to be with his family and loved ones.”

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló:

“Gracias x escuchar reclamo de los puertorriqueños e indultar a Oscar López.Luego de mucho tiempo,regresa a casa y a su familia.”

Playwright Lin Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”):

“Sobbing with gratitude here in London. OSCAR LOPEZ RIVERA IS COMING HOME. THANK YOU, .”

New York City Council President Melissa Mark Viverito:

‘TONIGHT! In !! We come together to celebrate w/ FAMILIA Oscar’s release. Pass by! 115th St & Park Avenue. 8PM .”

Marcos Vilar, Orlando community organizer-activist:

“Obama just commuted Oscar Lopez Rivera’s sentence!!! Coño!!!! Al fin!!!!!

Christina Marie Hernández, Orlando community organizer-activist:

So proud of the thousands who never gave up.”

Fernando Negrón, Orlando radio host:

“En buena hora Mr Presidente.”

Josephine Balzac, Orlando attorney-activist:

“I’m so proud of everyone who advocated for Oscar’s release, this gives the people of Puerto Rico 🇵🇷hope and sometimes HOPE for CHANGE is all you need!”

Jimmy Torres-Vélez, SEIU organizer:

“Viva el Pueblo.”

 Sami Haiman-Marrero, Orlando community volunteer:

“My heart bursts with happiness again! Obama has pardoned Oscar Lopez!”

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Obama Ends Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot for Cubans

Barack Obama eliminated the wet-foot, dry-foot policy that favored Cuban immigration. He arrives in Havana with his family in this March 2016 photo, the first president to visit Cuba in over 50 years. /White House photo

No more wet-foot, dry-foot for Cubans. In a surprise move, President Barack Obama ended the policy that gave favored status to Cuban immigrants, including permanent residence after one year.

The presidential decision, effective immediately and issued just one week before Obama leaves office, orders that Cuban immigrants be treated the same as other immigrants as part of Obama’s effort to continue to normalize relations with Cuba.

Public reaction was mixed.

“Cuba Libre?!?” asked Peter Vivaldi on  Facebook in response to the news that reverberated across Florida this week.

“Los cubanos se quedaron con los pies fríos,” wrote another on Facebook. (Cubans are left with cold feet.)

Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot Decision

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security outlined the decision Thursday in a 40-minute call with reporters.

• Cuban immigrants already in the United States awaiting permanent residency can remain here.

• The United States can return Cuban nationals ordered out of the United States up to four years after arriving here, compared with two years previously.

• The annual immigration lottery that allows 20,000 Cubans to immigrate to the U.S. remains unchanged, as does the Cuban family reunification program that expedites immigration processing.

• The new policy ends the Cuban medical parole program under which the island’s medical professionals could enter the U.S.

The wet-foot, dry-foot policy,  first declared by former President Bill Clinton to address a refugee crisis and as part of long-standing hostilities with Cuba, was a sore point with other immigrants who questioned its fairness.

Unfair and Inhumane

Undocumented Haitians, for instance, were returned to their country whether intercepted at sea or on land, while undocumented Cubans were returned only if intercepted at sea.

“Ya llegaste!” onlookers shouted to Cuban refugees rushing to land on a South Florida beach before the U.S. Coast Guard could stop them a couple of years ago. (You have arrived!)

“The United States will now treat Cuban migrants in a manner consistent with how it treats others,” DHS stated.

Critics charged the policy encouraged Cubans to make the perilous journey across the Florida Strait in rickety rafts in hopes of landing in the Sunshine State, home to the largest population of Cubans – 1.3 million – outside of Cuba.

Many died doing so, including most famously the mother of Elián González, the Cuban boy who miraculously survived a journey after all had perished, creating a custodial tug of war between the United States and Cuba. González ultimately was returned to Cuba, angering many South Florida Cubans.

Although the move came as a surprise, it had been speculated about once the United States and Cuba entered diplomatic talks in 2014. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, for instance, raised the issue during his presidential campaign.

Rubio Questioned Policy

Rubio said he was open to modifying wet-foot, dry-foot, saying it was difficult to justify under normalized relations between the two countries.

“When you have people who are coming and a year and a day later are traveling back to Cuba 15 times a year, 12 times, 10 times, eight times, that doesn’t look like someone who is fleeing oppression,” Rubio told the Associated Press in a story published November 2015.

Cuban immigration spiked in the last two years as anxiety grew about a potential change in policy, many taking an alternate but equally dangerous route through Central America to cross the U.S.- Mexico border.

Spike in Cuban Entries

Over 46,600 Cubans entered the country illegally in fiscal year 2016, compared with nearly 24,300, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. About two-thirds entered through the Laredo, Texas-Mexico border, Pew Hispanic data show.

The elimination of wet-foot, dry-foot is likely to have political and Florida demographic repercussions down the line. It’s unclear whether President-elect Donald Trump will unravel normalization of relations with Cuba, although Trump indicated he might do so while campaigning for president.

Obama’ s move also puts Trump in a pickle. About half of Cuban-Americans voted for Trump – a significantly higher proportion than other Latino voters – helping to award Florida to Trump in last November’s election.

Down the Line

Also, if Cuban immigration slows, population increases among other Latino groups is likely to loom larger, particularly in Florida, where most Cubans take up residence, regardless of point of entry.

Already, Puerto Ricans number over 1 million in Florida, and in the long-term may surpass the state’s Cuban population of 1.3 million.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

2016 Comes to an End with a Bang

The year 2016 is coming to an end with a bang on many fronts. Let’s turn to a few less obvious but newsy items that merit attention for their importance.

Pulse

From the first news of the Pulse nightclub shooting on June 12, a tug of war erupted between the LGBTQ and Latino communities over who would take the lead in speaking for the 49 victims, most of whom were Hispanic, many of them Puerto Rican.

The LGBTQ community won the struggle, as evidenced by the six-month anniversary of the shooting at the Orange County History Center, where the Hispanic component of the shooting was nearly absent.

As reported in Orlando Latino, the ceremony host  “forgot” to acknowledge the Pulse victims. Not one of the survivors or family members was called to the podium. Not one. The host mentioned only in passing that the history center opened a display of the tributes to Pulse collected from around town.

Government and others have now also buried the grass roots efforts that took place in the Latino community to help survivors and families, where groups such as Somos Orlando offered – and continues to offer – mental health counseling to the affected community.

But the Hispanic community has not been totally forgotten. In an Orlando Sentinel poll conducted before the six-month anniversary, 21 percent said Pulse was an attack of terrorism, an attack against gays and Hispanics (italics mine). That was up from 13 percent in June.

Full disclosure: I was named to the board of Somos Orlando but have resigned this month.

Latinos Elected

Newly elected Cong. Darren Soto

Central Florida has about 11 Latino elected officials as a result of the 2016 elections, including Darren Soto, the first Florida Puerto Rican in Congress. About five are a net gain, meaning a Hispanic did not previously hold the seat.

Here are the winners:  Víctor Torres, former state representative to state senator, District 15; Bob Cortés, re-elected to House District 30; John Cortés, re-elected to House District 43; René Plasencia, re-elected to the State House but representing a new area: District 50; Amy Mercado elected to House District 48 previously occupied by her father Víctor Torres; Carlos Guillermo Smith elected to District 49; Emily Bonilla elected to the Orange County Commission, District 5; Armando Ramirez, re-elected as Clerk of the Court of Osceola County; José Alvarez elected the first Hispanic mayor of Kissimmee; and Olga González, elected to Kissimmee City Commission Seat 1.

Early Voting

An important lesson about early voting in the presidential election:  About 70 percent of all Florida votes were cast before election day but the latest analyses indicate there is no correlation between early voting and higher voter turnout.

Early voting simply changed the way people voted, which is important for organizers to keep in mind for future elections.

Undocumented Immigrants

President Barack Obama will have deported more than 2.75 million undocumented immigrants by the time he leaves office in several weeks, the highest number of any president – and some presidents combined, earning Obama the moniker of “Deporter in Chief.”

Of those deported, 84 percent had criminal records. That leaves over 820,000 of the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions. If Trump delivers on his promise, there won’t be as many undocumented immigrants with criminal records to deport.

Obamacare

One of every five people or 20 percent enrolled in Obamacare lives in Florida, the highest percentage of any state. That’s over 1.3 million people, which is going to make it difficult for Washington to undo the Affordable Care Act without causing massive healthcare headaches for millions of people without other health care recourses.

There would be up to 800,000 more Obamacare customers in Florida if the state had expanded Medicaid, a key component of the health care act.

As of December 19, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services reports about, 6.4 million people had signed up for Obamacare for 2017, or about 2 million more than the year before, indicating that Obamacare has become more – not less – relevant.

Puerto Rico Financial Crisis

At year end, the new fiscal control board that’s poised to take over Puerto Rico in 2017 projected the island’s financial predicament is worse than had been reported, which was already pretty bad.

Puerto Rico Gov.-elect Ricky Rosselló.

As reported in Orlando Latino, Puerto Rico’s projected 10-year deficit is $67 billion, or $10 billion higher than originally stated and nearly as much as the island and its public agencies owe bondholders.

Gov.-elect Ricky Rosselló must present a balanced budget, which would be a first in decades, requiring significant government cutbacks as well as deep reforms to keep the island economy from toppling completely.

Bottom line for Florida: The pain is likely to send more economic migrants to the Sunshine State, continuing a dramatic shift in the state’s Latino population. Puerto Ricans number over 1 million in Florida, compared with about 1.3 million Cubans, the state’s largest Latino group.

Zika

The final Zika numbers for Puerto Rico fell short of earlier predictions but are still alarming. The Puerto Rico Health Department reports nearly 36,000 islanders contracted mosquito-borne Zika, accounting for the lion’s share of locally transmitted cases under the U.S. flag.

Only 216 local cases were reported in the 50 states, with Florida making up 210 of those.

Zika can cause birth defects such as microcephaly in pregnant women. About 2,500 island women were infected in 2016, which is significantly below the 43,000 cases per year that were projected for Puerto Rico, as reported earlier in Orlando Latino.

Of those 2,500 cases only seven (7 ) resulted in infants with birth defects. The island has projected 1,000 fewer births this year due to Zika.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor