By Aracely Panameño
On August 18th, The Washington Post published a piece that completely caught me by surprise. My own Congressman, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA11), had joined anti-immigrant Republicans on a letter petitioning Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to approve a statewide 287(g) agreement with the Commonwealth of Virginia. As soon as I could, I called the Representative’s Woodbridge office and had a conversation with the Woodbridge office director. The staffer had nothing but talking-points to offer me. I expressed my disappointment and ended the call.
Subsequently, I called upon the leadership of Virginia New Majority, a 501(c)(4) organization where I am vice-chair of the board. I asked if the organization could schedule a meeting with Rep. Connolly. In 2008, when Connolly was elected to Congress, VNM and its volunteers knocked on 50,000 doors in the 11th district where we were working to encourage voters to go out to the polls. Of those, more than 24,000 households identified comprehensive immigration reform as a very important issue to them. Based on this preceding work, VNM’s executive director wrote a letter asking for a meeting with the congressman. The congressman’s office ignored the letter and several calls. As a constituent, I personally followed up until we secured a meeting for October 7th.
The congressman did not meet with us; instead, a legislative aide was assigned to the task. The young woman worked to keep her composure while she told a lie about the intent of the letter without ever offering us a copy. She tried to justify her boss’s action by telling us that constituents from Prince William County had asked Rep. Connolly to support the letter because they wanted to be able to enforce their own local law. She went on to say that Rep. Connolly would not want to impose a PWC (Prince William County) -style law on jurisdictions like Arlington where no such law exists.
After the meeting, we did our homework and found copy of the original letter. The message was clear and the position from the three congressmen signing the letter was unquestionable; they want to impose a PWC-style law across the entire state of Virginia. Rep. Connolly has made a 180 degree turn.
On Tuesday, October 12th, I received a letter from his office stating what had once been true, Rep. Connolly used to stand up for immigrants’ rights and against those who seek to divide our community. He forgot that on August 18th when he parted ways with all Americans of immigrant descent, all immigrants (legal and otherwise), and all other Americans who support a comprehensive approach to immigration reform. On August 18th, with his own signature Rep. Connolly chose to be one of those who seek to divide our communities for political gain.
On October 7th, Congressman Gerry Connolly lost my vote, the vote of my family, and the vote of those of us for whom the immigration issue trumps everything else.
Typically, I have voted for candidates who support values and positions for the greater good of our community while respecting our individual rights — values I hold dear. I vote for leaders who have the courage and integrity to stand for democratic principles. Rep. Connolly abandoned those fundamental principles and in doing so, he lost my vote.
The enforcement-only approach to immigration policy gives way to racial profiling where my rights as a citizen are violated because of my appearance and/or my name. This type of approach denies me the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness; it denies me equal protection under the law. In this unjust and hostile environment, nativists are enabled by elected officials to exercise their racism without regard for the rights of others and without regard for private property. I know this on a personal level.
Friends and neighbors tell me that I have nowhere to go as a voter; that the Republican party is worse than the Democratic party on this and other issues. However, with friends like Connolly, who was quick at throwing me under the bus, I cannot even think of partisan differences.
The Latino proportion of the electorate is growing in Virginia and all across our nation. In some states, we represent a significantly greater proportion than in others. In New Mexico, nearly 40% of the electorate is Latino; so I am not surprised that a Latina, county district attorney is leading in the race for governor. More than 25% of the electorate is Latino in the state of TX. In CA, AZ, and FL, the Latino proportion of the electorate is more than 24%, more than 18%, and nearly 15%, respectively. By contrast, in Virginia nearly 4% of the electorate is Latino. However, despite the proportion, because the majority of Latinos are concentrated in certain regions of the states where they reside, the Latino vote has a more significant impact in certain districts than others. In Virginia, the Latino vote impacts the greater northern region of the state in a more significant way than in southwest part of the state.
In terms of the issues that affect the community, Latino issues are American issues and vice versa. As Americans, we are concerned about jobs and the economy. Families are struggling to keep their homes and to make ends meet. Two more homes have been foreclosed within half a block from my house. There are bank-owned homes and a significant number of other homes listed for short-sale in my community. The value of my home continues to drop. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both under government control right now, do not give homeowners an honest opportunity to keep their homes; they pay cash incentives for the expeditious processing of foreclosures. Families are concerned about our children graduating from high school with the necessary skills to succeed in college or to find a job. These are not Latino-only issues — these are American issues.
I am tired of politicians who tell me to vote for them because they are not the devil but the child of the devil and therefore less evil. I am tired of broken promises and the path to hopelessness. I am tired of being just a pawn during the election. I am sorry President Obama is not on the ballot because I support him. However, I do not support Representative Connolly.
Aracely Panameño is an activist in Northern Virginia.