Anatomy of an Immigration Debate: Brown Faces at the White House

"E pluribus unum"

--Motto found on the seal of the United States

The dictum "Out of many, one" is as ubiquitous--officially--as it is defining of  U.S. mythology. It is imprinted on money which underscores how critical it is to the daily life of average Americans.  And yet, this motto exists in a virtually invisible state, its meaning lurking in the shadows and in the open, precisely because we handle it everyday--whether hedge fund whizzes move millions or a homeless person drops coins into the bus meter after a day of begging.

It is fitting, then, that this motto serve as the ethos of a new blog segment called: "Anatomy of an Immigration Debate" which begins with "Brown Faces at the White House" and this week's Hispanic Policy Conference (with "brown" being loosely used to refer to Latinos whose complexions range from Snow White like Giselle Bündchen, to black like salsa diva Celia Cruz, and every shade in between).

Then we'll reach back to the Spring when the President shifted the stalled immigration debate into high gear.  When addressing (the lack of) comprehensive immigration reform in El Paso, Texas, President Obama, passionately evoked "E pluribus unum."  Smart man: the 2012 Presidential election may be the first to be determined by Latino voters; deportations, including those of DREAMers--undocumented students and military service members--accelerate on his watch; and the Republican leadership is unable--or unwilling--to rein in the xenophobic wing of the party.

It is within our current and charged political and social context that "Out of Many, One" lives, breathes, and receives sustenance.  The extraordinary demographic changes confirmed by the 2010 U.S. Census is re-defining and challenging our notion of the body politic.

Anatomy of an Immigration Debate: Brown Faces at the White House

I give the President credit for inviting Latino leaders to the White House for a two day long opening "of the lines of communications."

Imagine a wonky speed dating, where critical issues that will determine our nation's future around economic recovery, education, and competitiveness are being presented.  "Hi, I'm X, and I work at _______ (fill in the agency).  This is what we do..."  Next bureaucrat.  Next session.

It's a sign of respect for a growing voting block with significant issues around educational attainment, political, and economic disenfranchisement.  But as David Ferreira, partner at the Hispanic Strategy Group and former VP for Government Affairs for the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce posted on Facebook, ‎"Breakouts on everything except #CIR [Comprehensive Immigration Reform]. Please don't be a "judge us on other issues" conf?"

A break-out session on CIR would have been nothing short of political suicide for a President struggling to lower the unemployment rate and strike a deal with Republicans to raise the debt ceiling, including Arizona's senior Senator who last month, as I write in Senator McCain's Definition of Illegal Could Mean You, crossed the border into Bizarro-ville.  Still, Latinos, a so-called "friendly" audience, asked tough questions about immigration in virtually every session ranging from jobs, to healthcare, to education, to faith-based initiatives.  On several occasions, attendees demanded an explanation to Immigration, Customs, and Enforcement (ICE)'s continuing deportation of DREAMers--and not solely criminals--in defiance of the President's directives.

Hispanics, however, are not a one-trick immigration pony: these leaders also demanded to know what is being done to create more jobs, how to increase Latinas' earning power to match that of white men and women, and why the Administration has not penalized banks that received billions in bailout money for not sufficiently helping working American keep their homes.

How these "brown" faces acquire access to political, social, and economic opportunities is a challenge that requires equal parts government leadership, personal ganas or guts, and community commitment.  Failure is a malignant tumor left to grow and corrode.  Success strengthens the body--in this case, the nation.

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