This primary season has been historic for a number of good and bad reasons. We'll leave the bad reasons out for now, but I can't help but highlight the fact that, on Wednesday, the nation witnessed a major debate in both English and Spanish — with no subtitles — where diversity and bilingualism was embraced, not shunned.
In the Miami debate, sponsored by the Washington Post and Spanish-language channel Univision, both candidates were far from perfect. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders passed on the opportunity to denounce Donald Trump as a racist. Clinton's use of the Spanish word, "basta" (enough) was a poor attempt to connect with the Hispanic audience. Comments by Sanders on immigration during his opening remarks seemed like an afterthought. And while a significant amount of time was dedicated to the topic of immigration, there was no mention of it in either candidates' closing statements.
Yet, for all the failed opportunities during the debate to win the Hispanic vote, Univision anchor and debate moderator Jorge Ramos forced the two candidates to make a bold statement on immigration and separate themselves from the Obama administration's immigration record.
During Obama's administration, more than 2.8 million people have been deported (through the end of 2015), according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement statistics. The official statement from the Obama administration has been that the priority is to deport undocumented immigrants with criminal records. However, it is widely known that Central American children and women fleeing violent conditions in their home countries – who do not have criminal records — have had their asylum cases denied, or worse, have been denied the due process they would otherwise receive would they be coming from any other part of the world.
According to the Vera Institute of Justice, 40 percent of Central American children would likely be eligible for relief from deportation, however these children are not entitled to legal counsel and in many cases are forced to represent themselves during their asylum hearings. Recently, a federal immigration judge, who is responsible for training other judges, said in sworn testimony that a 3-year old child can be taught enough immigration law to represent himself or herself in court. In a nation like ours, where children are guarded at every corner and our courts are guided by what is 'in the best interest of the child," to leave a 3-year-old to defend himself or herself in a court of law — especially when it could be a matter of life or death — is beyond reason and humanity.
This is in addition to the increase in raids across the country that continue to divide families, leaving children without their parents, with no path toward reunification any time soon. These raids have caused widespread fear among the Hispanic community, driving thousands further into the shadows for fear of being deported back to countries that, in many cases, have war-zone dangers at every turn.
Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have pledged not to deport children and undocumented immigrants with no criminal record. If they are serious about that promise, if they are serious about gaining the trust of Hispanic voters, then that pledge should be public and in writing, as part of their formal immigration plans. If we can't agree to protect the children, then we have lost the principles and moral compass of our nation.
Commentary by Julissa Arce, the author of the forthcoming book, "My (Underground) American Dream" (Sept. 13, 2016). Arce made national and international headlines when she revealed that she had achieved the American Dream of wealth and status working her way up to vice president at Goldman Sachs by age 27 while being an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. Follow her on Twitter @julissaarce.
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