Obama’s Raids

     It is a story from my mother’s days in Paris during World War II. The Germans were checking papers at the subway exit, effectively trapping those who got off the train.
     Barrel-chested and hard-drinking, Oncle George was in the resistance but was also part of the Paris underworld, and was of great interest to the Germans. He got off at that station.
      With only one way out, he jumped onto the tracks and ran down the tunnel, getting to the next station in time.
     Since I heard that story as a kid, I have believed random checks for papers are a Gestapo tactic.
     In a democratic society, people are entitled to walk along without having to show identity papers. That is a central right of a free people.
     But not in our nation.
     A former bull rider from Mexico does contracting work once in a while on my dad’s old farm. He called a couple months ago because immigration agents had descended on the Oceanside barrio where he lives and picked up one of his crew members.
     He described the scene to me. A big group of ICE agents parked their white trucks in the neighborhood and spread out, asking anyone they came across for their ID.
     The news quickly spread and residents stayed indoors. But the young crewman was caught, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
     Over lunch recently, I told that story to a friend who works for the Justice Department. He reacted, “They’re still doing that!”
     Like me, he had not heard of an immigration raid in a long, long time.
     Decades ago, it was the INS in the Justice Department that enforced immigration laws and now it is ICE in Homeland Security. And raids were common.
     INS agents would go to California DMV offices, for example, and guard the exits, trapping those inside. At their leisure, agents could then interrogate Latinos as they stood in line to register their cars or get a license.
     Or, and I reported on this, the light green INS vans somehow materialized when Latin moms were planning to protest for better healthcare in front of the L.A. Board of Supervisors. The moms stayed away.
     That was when Mike Antonovich was on the board and the former head of Wienserchnitzel was the INS district director.
     But even then, when my beat was immigration and raids were common, I never heard of agents simply descending en masse on a barrio neighborhood and asking anyone they ran across for papers.
     So it is amazing to me that under a black Democratic president, a black attorney general and a black head of homeland security — who would normally, and legitimately, be sensitive to the issue of stops based on race — that under that array of institutional black power, immigration raids have not only been revived, but have been molded into a broad and crude weapon that includes raiding brown neighborhoods.
     The offense to civil liberties is compounded by the offense to political strategy.
     I was walking to work last week and looked into a news box to see an L.A. Times headline, “Latinos, angry with Obama, may sit out midterm vote, hurting Democrats.”
     “No kidding,” I muttered to myself, or something real close to that.
     The minority vote is the Democrats’ ace in the hole, and especially, given their numbers, the Latino vote. No competent politician could possibly miss what happened in California when the state flopped four years ago to a majority minority electorate.
     Democrats romped through that election and Republicans in California have not had a chance at anything close to a legislative majority since then.
     Albeit more slowly, the same demographic shift is happening in other states. Lucky for the Democrats, you would think, and indeed so did the pundits.
     But that talk is all gone.
     And for one main reason. Because Obama’s stance on immigration has been draconian.
     And the thing is: his folks had to know it, there is no way they could not understand that draconian immigration enforcement would turn off Latin voters. The policy was supposed to forestall a Republican challenge on the border issue, taking an issue away from the party that appeals primarily to whites.
     But that was a lost cause. And instead, he gave away a demographic edge that could have saved the Democratic prospects from the current wave of radicalization in the pale vote.
     I voted for Obama twice, and the health care law, flawed as it may be, is a great, popular, belated step towards a decent society. But I have had a hard time opening up my wallet this time around, and I think there are an awful lot of folks like me.

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