By Elena Shore
New America Media
A Latino radio host and blogger is calling for Cecilia Muñoz to resign from the White House for her defense of the administration’s deportation policies. Presente.org, the immigrant rights group that led the petition to get CNN’s Lou Dobbs off the air, is demanding that Muñoz denounce the Secure Communities program.
In response, a group of some of the nation’s leading immigrant advocacy organizations released a statement Monday in support of Muñoz.
The controversy may reveal a difference of opinion within the immigrant rights movement over which strategy to take when advocating for the rights of immigrants in the United States.
At the center of the storm is Muñoz, a longtime immigrant rights organizer who now works for an administration that has overseen the deportation of a record number of undocumented immigrants. Before joining the White House, Muñoz worked for the National Council of La Raza, where she was known as an advocate for immigrants’ rights.
Muñoz was appointed Director of Intergovernmental Affairs in 2009, and has since gotten flak from some immigration advocates for her statements defending the Obama administration’s policies. Among the most controversial is Secure Communities, the program that requires municipal police to share the fingerprints of all arrestees with federal immigration authorities. The administration claims that the program focuses on deporting criminals, but critics argue that many of those deported under the program have been undocumented immigrants with no criminal record.
Mario Solis-Marich, senior editor of Mario Wire and host of the Mario Solis-Marich Show on 760 AM in Denver, called for Muñoz to resign in August after reading her defense of the Secure Communities program on the White House blog.
“Not only were they (the federal government) implementing a policy in an inhumane fashion, but they were trying to triangulate the community,” said Solis-Marich, who wrote in his own blog: “Since Ms. Munoz can’t seem to move the internal White House dialogue into a more humane position on immigration she should resign with honor.”
According to Solis-Marich, others joined in the call for Muñoz to resign after she appeared in a Frontline documentary about federal immigration detention centers that aired on public television on Oct. 18. On that program, Muñoz said this about the record number of deportations under the Obama administration:
“At the end of the day, when you have immigration law that’s broken and you have a community of 10 million, 11 million people living and working in the United States illegally, some of these things are going to happen. Even if the law is executed with perfection, there will be parents separated from their children. They don’t have to like it, but it is a result of having a broken system of laws. And the answer to that problem is reforming the law….”
“Being Latina does not give you a license to advocate for, and spin around, policies that devastate Latinas,” said Presente.org co-founder Roberto Lovato. “Presente.org has attacked right-wing people like Lou Dobbs,” Lovato said. “Muñoz is out there talking about immigrants like she’s a Republican white man. The messenger has changed, but the message is the same.”
In response to the call for Muñoz’s resignation, some of the nation’s leading immigrant rights groups released a joint statement Monday in defense of Muñoz. The statement was signed by 18 organizations including the Center for Community Change, National Council of La Raza, Asian American Justice Center, National Immigration Forum, America’s Voice and National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
“A lot of leaders in the immigrant rights community wanted to make sure that the debate (over Cecilia Muñoz) does not become a distraction from the real issues at hand: the way the administration is enforcing the law,” explained Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change.
“The administration’s policies are causing real harm and suffering and they need to be changed,” said Bhargava. “Cecilia is not the cause of those bad policies, and we are confident that she is doing everything she can to improve them.”
Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), one of the organizations that signed the letter, explained, “We have known Cecilia Muñoz for many years and although we disagree with her statements as of late defending the indefensible, we believe her to be a woman of integrity, compassion, and deep commitment to work on behalf of all immigrants. While it is unfortunate she has to be one of the spokespersons for the failed Obama administration’s immigration policy, we are not going to lump everyone together and lose the few allies we have in the White House.”
The Department of Homeland Security announced last month that it had deported 396,000 individuals in the last year – the largest number in the agency’s history. The deportations were carried out in fiscal year 2011, which ended Sept. 30. Forty-five percent of deportees had not been convicted of any crime.
But the White House also touts several “dramatic improvements” to the U.S. immigration system under the Obama administration.
Luis Miranda, the White House’s director of Hispanic media, said the Obama administration has developed “clear immigration enforcement priorities for the first time ever that include focusing on those with criminal records, a smarter approach from a law enforcement perspective that also better reflects our nation’s values.” Among these changes are reforms to the immigration detention system to prioritize the safety of detainees, the launch of a case-by-case review process to focus federal enforcement resources on the highest priority individuals, and improvements to the Secure Communities program to more effectively target criminals.
“Arguments that suggest nothing has been done, even while we continue to try to make progress in Congress, are flat out wrong,” said Miranda, who noted that the president has faced opposition from Republicans in Congress on key proposals that would have benefited immigrant communities, including comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act.
For Solis-Marich, the controversy over Cecilia Muñoz reveals a “real difference of opinion about what our position is as Latinos in the political make-up of the Democratic Party.”
“We no longer have to be grateful (to have a Latino in the White House) or protect somebody while they’re there,” said Solis-Marich. “There’s no use of having somebody in the White House if she’s not protecting the community.”
“Even immigrant rights advocates have given the green light to the administration’s use of ‘get-tough’ language,” added Lovato of Presente.org.
In 2008, reporter Sam Stein broke a story on a confidential study that encouraged Democrats to use harsher language to discuss immigration by emphasizing “requiring immigrants to become legal” rather than stressing a path to legalization for the undocumented.
The study, called “Winning The Immigration Debate,” was put together by the Center for American Progress and the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, of which Cecilia Muñoz, who was with the National Council of La Raza at the time, was a board member.
Looming behind the controversy over Cecilia Muñoz is the approaching 2012 presidential election, when the Latino voter turnout could be key to Obama’s re-election.
Solis-Marich acknowledged that no Republican presidential candidate would “be any better” for immigrants and the Latino community than Obama has been, but added that, “If I come to believe that (staying home on Election Day) would get the administration to move, that’s what I would advocate.”