Looking Up and Missing Out


A good number of photos I’ve taken in Italy and in particular, Rome, had me looking up, straining my neck or contorting my torso to capture an impression of the ornate, over-the-top, and gilded ceilings and domes of the city’s churches. There are so many of them that it has all become a blur of rich hues and gold. It’s understandable to be awestruck. Rome and the Catholic Church were built to project power, wealth and empire. But all this looking up has made me look down for grounding, for reality.

The Italy tourists like me see or choose to see is historic, monumental, romantic. We come with our guidebooks and lists of places from friends who have preceded us. We come to consume something different from our day-to-day lives, so we flock to the sites and stare at art which we have been told are essential to a grand tour. But we tend not to look around us, to see the reality about us.

The South Asian men providing selfie sticks and appearing with umbrellas as soon as rain falls. The African men demonstrating how a flat piece of wood opens up to form a basket. The Eastern European women serving pasta and pizza in several languages. The Chinese merchants making sure tchotchkes are in abundance. The Filipino nannies tending plump fair-skinned babies and picking up the shit of pedigreed pets.

Over four million immigrants from Romania, Morocco, Albania, China, Ukraine, the Philippines, India and other countries live in Italy. The Instituto Nazionale di Statistica reports that in 2013, 7.4 percent (4,387,721) of the country’s population was foreign born or native born children of immigrants (15 percent of all births). This statistic does not include the clandestini or undocumented immigrants.

And there are the native Italians going about their business, living as we do back home: commuting, eking out a living, caring for families, albeit precariously. The European Parliament Directorate General for Internal Policies reports that in 2012, 29.9 percent of people living in Italy were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. In January 2014, the youth unemployment rate was a staggering 42.4 percent.

Italy today has very little resemblance to the Roman Empire. Its people go about quotidian lives amid all the ruins, museums and churches. They’re really no different from us. I suppose that’s why we look up.

Check out erwindeleon on Instagram for pictures looking up.

Immigrant Integration Ignored in Reform Debate


June 12, 2013; Forbes

Senators, advocates, and other stakeholders in immigration reform have been dueling over border enforcement, federal benefits and entitlements, the pathway to citizenship, and even gay bi-national couples. The sparring will continue through the House of Representatives soon enough. Howard Husock, vice president for policy research at the Manhattan Institute, correctly points out that missing from the debate has been the integration of millions of undocumented immigrants who will be eligible for legalization should reform pass.

Husock highlights a provision in the Senate Gang of Eight’s bill, which he argues is just as important as more controversial sections. He writes, “The proposed Office of New Americans, designed to encourage what used to be called assimilation (or, in the politically correct parlance of the bill, ‘integration’), will try to use a special commission, public foundation, and some federal assistance to help immigrants ‘join the mainstream of civic life’…there should be broad agreement in any bill that passes that we should seek an increase in the number of immigrants who speak English, and in the number who become citizens.”

Husock realizes that “there’s likely to be dispute about just what that means—and how much should be spent toward the goal,” but he believes that “finding effective ways to realize these goals are far from side issues. Helping to bring the latest—and, in sheer numbers, the largest ever—wave of immigrants into the cultural mainstream will be crucial in defusing what may be lingering anti-immigrant sentiment, even if reform legislation passes.” He contends, however, that government might not be the right agent for the job and that integration is best left to philanthropists and nonprofit organizations.

Indeed, an Urban Institute study of immigrant-serving community-based organizations documents why these nonprofits are best suited to help immigrants integrate into our economic, political, and social mainstream. They are embedded in immigrant communities, are founded and run by immigrants, and know the particular needs of their constituents along with the most effective way of reaching and assisting them.

But will foundations and philanthropists step up to the plate and give adequate funding to immigrant-serving nonprofits that will no doubt be inundated by individuals and families seeking legal and other support services? Adriana Kugler and Patrick Oakford, senior fellow and research assistant respectively, at the Center for American Progress, estimate about 85 percent of 10.6 million undocumented individuals will be eligible for legalization. Community-based organizations are already stretched to the limit as it is. The current version of the Senate bill does include a provision authorizing about $50 million in grants to nonprofits that assist eligible immigrants through the process, but this will most likely be stricken out as the debate continues.

Experts from all sides have made projections about how much immigration reform might cost, even though the details are in flux and passage of legislation is not guaranteed. Nonetheless, we need to factor in how much it would cost immigrant-serving nonprofits, and the philanthropic class had better be ready to loosen their purse strings.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly’s Newswire.

Sequestration’s Toll on Immigrants and Our Shared Future


Two girls at the U.S.-Mexico Border crossing. Photo by Flickr user Bosquet, used under a Creative Commons License (cc-by-sa 2.0)

Here’s what the scaremongers think they know about sequestration and immigration: that hundreds of undocumented criminal aliens will be let loose and hundreds more will swarm through our unsecured borders, steal American jobs, and abuse our welfare system. Setting aside the facts that many being released from detention are guilty of only minor infractions, that net migration from Mexico is practically nonexistent, and that immigrants give more than they take, the vast majority of immigrants in the United States are legal permanent residents or naturalized citizens. These nearly 30 million people will certainly be set back by meat cleaver­–like sequestration cuts. And that should be of concern to all of us.

One federal program for which immigrants are eligible is Head Start, which offers competitive grants for comprehensive early childhood services for low-income children and families. Under sequestration, Head Start funds will be cut by as much as $622 million, which translates to over 96,000 fewer children served.

The automatic cuts to education, however, will have ripple effects throughout the economy. Children of immigrants are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population. According to an Urban Institute study, they account for nearly the entire growth in the country’s child population during the past two decades. As of 2010, one in four children in the United States lives in an immigrant family.

This considerable demographic shift will have major social, political, and economic implications for the country. In less than a decade, today’s immigrant children will make up a large proportion of new workers, taxpayers, and voters who will bear the responsibility of supporting aging baby boomers. It is crucial, then, to provide quality education for these children.

A functional and successful public education system can help secure economic and social parity for immigrant children and their families by giving students a solid foundation for higher education and subsequent gainful employment. This in turn can promote intergenerational mobility for immigrant groups. Ultimately, better mobility means a more productive economy and much-needed revenue for the government.

Poorly funded public schools can widen existing economic and social gaps between racial and ethnic groups and between haves and have-nots by denying disadvantaged students the educational foundation they need to progress. Educating immigrant children, however, is and will be daunting for public schools due to the schools’ diminished capacities and increased accountability burdens coupled with the linguistic and cultural challenges unique to immigrant students.

English proficiency is a significant barrier. Two in five immigrant children are English language learners, and three in four live in households where no one older than 13 speaks English proficiently. In addition, many immigrants have limited financial resources. Children in immigrant families make up close to a third of the nation’s poor children and a similar proportion of the nation’s low-income children. Five in ten immigrant children live in low-income families, compared with four in ten native-born children.

This tenuous situation will be exacerbated by cuts in discretionary spending for federal education programs. Title I grants to local education agencies—a cornerstone program designed to help all students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, meet high academic standards—are to be slashed by a whopping $1.1 billion. This will leave 1.8 million fewer students served, among whom are hundreds of thousands of immigrant children. English language acquisition state grants, which help English language learners and recent immigrant students learn English and become proficient in academic content standards, are to be cut by over $57 million, resulting in over 350,000 fewer immigrant students assisted.

Coupled with state budget shortfalls (which can only worsen when the federal cuts kick in), sequestration will set immigrant children and their families further back. If so much of our future workforce falls behind now, all of us will face the consequences in the not-too-distant future.

Originally posted on Urban Institute’s MetroTrends Blogthe Huffington Post, and Feet in 2 Worlds.

What’s With the Latest Immigration Reprieve?

On January 2, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced a new rule which was welcomed by immigrant communities and their advocates. Some unauthorized immigrants who are in the process of obtaining visas for permanent residency can now expect shorter separation from American family members. It is estimated that this latest immigration initiative from the Obama administration could impact as many as 1 million immigrants without proper papers.

Secretary Napolitano said in a statement that this “facilitates the legal immigration process and reduces the amount of time that U.S. citizens are separated from their immediate relatives who are in the process of obtaining an immigrant visa.”

Under current law, undocumented spouses, children, and parents of American citizens applying for permanent residency must leave the U.S. to attend an interview for an immigrant visa in their native country. If they have been in the U.S. illegally for more than six months, they are barred from re-entry anywhere from three to ten years which could cause economic, emotional, and psychological distress and strain familial bonds. In order to return, these relatives have to obtain a waiver which they can only apply for after passing an interview. American citizens can thus be separated for many years from immediate family and some immigrants have chosen to remain in the U.S. unlawfully rather than risk a prolonged period apart from loved ones.

The new process, which begins March 4, will allow immigrants who can prove that isolation from their American spouse, child or parent would cause “extreme hardship” to start the application while in the U.S. If approved, applicants will still need to return to their country of origin to pick up their visa but separation is promised to be brief, a matter of weeks not years. The rule does not provide legal status or a shortcut to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants.

Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director, said, “The law is designed to avoid extreme hardship to U.S. citizens, which is precisely what this rule achieves. The change will have a significant impact on American families by greatly reducing the time family members are separated from those they rely upon.”

Laura Lichter, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told The New York Times, “This rule is leaps and bounds better than what we have now. For families that were sitting on the fence, unwilling to subject their loved ones to the uncertainty, now they don’t have to wait.”

This is another “gift” from the Obama administration which, like the reprieve granted to DREAMers last August, will benefit many immigrants who call America home. This nonetheless does not fix our dilapidated immigration system or solve the matter of 11 million people living in the shadows. And with all the attention given to gun control and the looming deadline to deal with our debt ceiling and federal budget, I can’t help but wonder if this is but another palliative to keep immigrant communities and reform advocates at bay until the president gets to immigration reform.

Originally posted on the Huffington Post, January 12, 2013.

Response to Sandy Shows Vital Role of Immigrants During Calamities

Super storm Sandy wreaked havoc all along the East Coast, especially in New York and New Jersey, and first responders were there to help millions get through the calamity. So were immigrants who are invisible to most but no less indispensable at times like this: deli workers, food delivery guys, taxi drivers, nannies, tree limb cutters, and many others who ensured our first world comforts.

Some of these individuals labored through the hurricane by choice.

Félix Acosta, a bodega owner, wanted to make sure his customers had their essentials. “People stocked up on groceries early, and we decided to stay open until the hurricane started,” he told El Diario. “We had to place an order of water and milk on two occasions because we ran out, and bread was another item that sold quickly.”

Rafael de la Cruz, a livery cab driver, kept plying the streets to help people get around. “I wasn’t working because I was earning more money than on a regular day; I had to be out on the streets providing service because public transportation was shut down and many people were stranded,” he said.

Mo Showair, a pharmacist, kept his doors open, knowing full well that many of his customers needed their prescriptions. “We filled more than 150 orders for our clients, many of them elderly and sick, and we closed at 4 p.m.,” he said. “We were worried that people in the neighborhood wouldn’t have their medicine when they needed it most.”

David Rohde, writing for the Atlantic, points out however that many kept working because they had very little choice:

Those with a car could flee. Those with wealth could move into a hotel. Those with steady jobs could decline to come into work. But the city’s cooks, doormen, maintenance men, taxi drivers and maids left their loved ones at home … Instead of heading home to their families as the winds picked up, the city’s army of cashiers, waiters and other service workers remained in place.

We rightfully salute first responders who save those in dire straits and acknowledge elected officials who lead us through calamities. But we very rarely applaud those around us who do the small things that make a big difference, often at the expense of their own comfort and well-being. Now would be a good time to express our gratitude.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, November 1, 2012.

Congress’s Green Card Debate – Should Highly Skilled Immigrants Get Priority?

A man operates a helium ion microscope at the Department of Energy national scientific user facility. (Photo: Flickr/EMSL)

Yesterday, House GOP members tried and failed to pass legislation meant to keep the best and the brightest foreign students in the United States — at least the ones who earned doctorates from our better universities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Authored by Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the STEM Jobs Act would have provided up to 55,000 green cards a year to STEM graduates who agree to work for at least five years for a US employer in a related field.

The bill made sense since we desperately need the talent to stay competitive in the global economy. In a letter addressed to President Obama, 165 university leaders warned that “one quarter of US science and engineering firms already report difficulty hiring, and the problem will only worsen: the US is projected to face a shortfall of 230,000 qualified advanced-degree workers in scientific and technical fields by 2018.”

House Democrats however, blocked the bill because it would have eliminated the diversity lottery green card program, and reallocated up to 55,000 diversity visas to new green card programs for the STEM graduates.

A “Dear Colleague” letter circulated Tuesday by leaders of the Tri-Caucus – the Congressional Asian Pacific American, Black, and Hispanic Caucuses – argues that the STEM Jobs Act would effectively eliminate a legal immigration path for some groups, particularly those from African nations, “whose residents were issued approximately 50 percent of such visas in recent years.”

While the Tri-Caucus leaders and other Democrats agree that there is a need to keep STEM graduates in the United States, they contend that “the zero-sum approach of House Republicans, where we are forced to rob Peter of his visa so Paul can wait in a shorter line, is poor policy with poor prospects for becoming law.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, who has put forth a bill similar to Smith’s, but which keeps the diversity lottery program intact, charges that that the GOP’s sudden enthusiasm to pass a bill before Congress’s campaign recess is purely political.

“Democrats strongly support STEM visas, and we believe there is a unique opportunity here to craft a balanced, bipartisan bill that can pass the Senate,” Lofgren said. “But the Republicans have instead chosen to rush a partisan bill that has no chance of becoming law to score political points. It seems the only reason our colleagues have chosen to pursue this strategy right before an election is to attempt to appear more immigrant-friendly and to curry favor with high-tech groups.”

In a statement released last night, Smith expressed his disappointment.

“Unfortunately, Democrats today voted to send the best and brightest foreign graduates back home to work for our global competitors,” Smith said. “Their vote against this bill is a vote against economic growth and job creation.”

A bill that would have allowed foreign talent to stay in the country and contribute to our competitiveness and prosperity makes sense, whatever the political motivations behind it might be.

However, as policies are crafted to address our nation’s workforce needs, our lawmakers have to acknowledge that we also rely on other kinds of talent and labor, not just STEM graduates.

“America’s economy needs the skilled farmworker as much as it needs the skilled engineer,” said Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, in a statement. Indeed, our farms are faltering due to lack of farm hands, thanks in large measure to anti-immigrant policies and sentiment.

“Despite the abundant harvest, asparagus growers had to leave 10 percent of their crop in the field this year due to lack of pickers,” complained Ralph Broetje, President of Broetje Orchards in Washington state, one of the largest privately owned orchards in the country. In a press release from the National Immigration Forum, Broetje said “The skilled labor source that we depend on is rapidly disappearing. If Congress does not act soon, U.S. farms will move their operations to other countries that are more cost-effective and have an adequate labor supply. If you look at that apple juice label and see where it’s coming from — it’s already happening.”

“Right now, all across America, there’s a flurry of activity on farms. And there’s a flurry of activity in Congress to provide STEM visas,” said Craig J. Regelbrugge, Co-Chair of the Agricultural Coalition for Immigration Reform in the same release from the National Immigration Forum. “At the end of the day, we don’t just need STEM, we need STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture and Math.”

What we really need is a sane and rational approach to reforming our immigration system. Not to mention a functioning Congress which has our nation’s best interests in mind. Unfortunately, it looks like we will not be getting either any time soon, regardless of the outcome of the November election who ends up controlling the House.

Posted on Feet in 2 Worlds and the Huffington Post, September 21, 2012.

Gay Groups Rally Behind Undocumented Youth


September 13, 2012; Source: The Huffington Post

Last month, some undocumented immigrants became eligible for reprieve under the Obama administration’s “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) program. Those who qualify are considered on a case-by-case basis and, if approved, can apply to stay and work in this country legally for up to two years. The application costs $465 and requires several background checks along with extensive financial, medical, education, and other records.

The process alone can be daunting and burdensome as it is, but the processing fee is prohibitive for many Dreamers, as undocumented youth are called, who work in the shadows and are paid accordingly.

Nearly 50 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups, under the leadership of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, have banded together and raised $75,000 to help some DACA applicants with the $465 price tag attached to the chance of pursuing the American Dream.

“When President Obama rose above politics to do the right thing for these brave young people we were moved, grateful, and wanted to help. We need these hardworking, talented youth to build a stronger future, and they need and deserve a chance to stop living in fear and on the margins,” Kate Kendell, NCLR’s director, said in a statement. “But the reality is that most of these young people will not have a chance to apply because of the cost. This fund is at the core of what our movement is about – standing together and making a difference in the lives of people who are part of our diverse community.”

Some of the Dreamers who tirelessly fought for recognition and successfully spurred the government to action are LGBT themselves.

“I am extremely grateful for the outpouring of support from so many people in our community, who believe in us and are giving us an opportunity to achieve goals that seemed completely impossible for most of our lives,” said Jorge Gutierrez. “Coming out as gay helped me come out as undocumented, which has been so much more difficult and challenging.”

To date, about 82,000 Dreamers have applied for reprieve, a far smaller number than what had been predicted by both advocates and opponents of DACA.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, September 17, 2012.

The Chicago Teacher’s Strike, Public Education, and Immigrants

Public schools can give immigrant children a leg up, but it can also set them back argues Erwin de Leon. (Photo: Flickr/sierraromeo)

The outcome of the Chicago Public School Teacher’s strike which centers on teachers’ pay, evaluation, and tenure, will have serious implications for the city’s students and teachers. It also speaks to the national debate over how our children should be taught and classrooms run.

The state of our public school system heavily impacts immigrant families and their children. As the U.S. Census reports foreign-born households tend to be larger and have more children than native households. Six in ten immigrant families include children under 18 and a majority is Latino. Moreover, children of immigrants are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, accounting for nearly the entire growth in the country’s child population during the past two decades. As of 2010, one in four children in the U.S. is part of an immigrant family. In Chicago, 44 percent of Chicago public school students – over 178,000 children – is Latino. Nationwide, one-in-four public elementary school students is Latino.

We are all affected as well. The considerable demographic shift we are experiencing will have major social, political, and economic implications for the U.S. Our public school system plays a vital and indispensable role in ensuring our economic success and societal progress.

American public schools have always been integral to the full integration of immigrants. Through public schools, new Americans have been introduced to their native-born neighbors, have learned how to be responsible citizens, and have gained the education necessary to be productive members of society. A functional and successful public education system can help secure economic and social parity for immigrant children and their families by giving students a solid foundation for higher education and subsequent gainful employment. This in turn can promote intergenerational mobility for immigrant groups.

Immigrants understandably tend to place a high premium on education, counting on the investment to eventually pay off for their children. Connie Diego, whose younger brother is a fifth-grader in the Chicago public school system, told a reporter, “We couldn’t ever miss even a day because our parents tell us about all the benefits we have there and how where they came from they didn’t have anything.”

Local Activist Fernando Rayas added that many children learn English at school. Without the public schools, he said “they will fall behind.” Indeed, English proficiency is a significant barrier faced by children of immigrants. Two out of five immigrant children are English language learners and three out of four live in households where no one older than the age of thirteen speaks English proficiently.

Public schools can give immigrant children a leg up, but so can they set them back. Poorly functioning and dysfunctional public schools can widen existing economic and social gaps between racial and ethnic groups and between haves and have-nots by denying disadvantaged students the educational foundation they require to progress. In order to succeed, American students need a solid educational foundation from our schools. In order for our knowledge-based U.S. economy to succeed, we need more highly skilled and educated workers.

As public education advocates, teachers’ unions, governments, and other stakeholders duke out the future of our public school system, they ultimately need to keep the best interests and welfare of our children in mind. They also need to acknowledge however that educators need to be fairly compensated and treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. Our shared future is at stake.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, the Huffington Post, and Urban Institute’s MetroTrends, September 14, 2012.

The Choice is Clear for Immigrants

Delegates at the DNC in Charlotte. (Photo: Flickr/newshour)

American voters are faced with a stark choice, not only about who will lead the nation in the next four years, but about what our shared future will be like. At the deepest and most profound, it is a decision about what America stands for. About what we stand for.

The conventions in Tampa and Charlotte – the crowds, the platforms, and the speeches – provided the contrast. Immigrants, their families and their communities now have to decide with whom they will cast their lot. Which party and ticket will assure them of their proper place as Americans and help them secure their American dream?

I’d like to think that the answer is obvious, and the numbers show that a majority of immigrants do know who has their interests in mind. But there are some who for whatever reason refuse to see the truth.

A woman immigrated to the United States in the 1970s, worked hard, and sacrificed in order to help her family back in the Philippines and those who came with her. She has accomplished a lot: rising up the ranks in the company where she has worked for decades, and supporting her family here and abroad.

In so many ways she has accomplished her American dream. But as a middle-class woman of color, she has also been held back. She has been denied promotions in spite of her credentials and hard work. Countless times has she complained of less qualified men surpassing her for jobs she can do with her eyes closed. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this was because of her gender. I wonder how much of it had to do with her ethnicity and accent.

She was supposed to retire a couple of years ago but the Great Recession happened. Her investments and the value of her home went under. She has little choice but to keep waking up at the crack of dawn, getting on a commuter train, and putting in her eight hours. She is tired but she does what needs to be done.

And she blames Barack Obama. She faults the man who signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act and who fought hard to keep our country from falling into a financial abyss. The man who wants to safeguard Social Security and Medicare for older Americans like her.

She listens to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. She is a hardcore Republican. She believes that Democrats promote dependency on government and that so many abuse system. She refuses to see and admit who is really responsible for her setbacks.

I doubt she watched the Democratic convention. I wish she had. She would have seen so many other Americans of color like her. Not as tokens but as valued members whose voices are heard. She would have learned of policies that safeguard and promote her and her family’s well-being. She would recognize her own family’s story in the struggles and successes of Michelle’s and Barack’s families. She would have heard the man she despises tell her that he thinks of her and her family when making hard decisions. She would have been assured that no one gets a free ride but that together we can create a better future. She would have heard the President’s passionate argument that “no American should ever have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies. They should retire with the care and the dignity they have earned.”

Like many other immigrant Americans, she will go to the polls on November 6 and cast her vote. How I wish she realizes who really sees her, hears her, and embraces her as an immigrant and as a woman. It should be crystal clear to her who has her and her family’s future in his heart and mind. Sadly, it isn’t.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, September 7, 2012.

Despite Display of Diversity, GOP Actions and Words Send Hostile Message to Immigrants

The optics of a mostly white crowd aren’t good for Republicans. (Photo: Flickr/newshour)

The Republican Party is trying hard to appear diverse, inclusive, and welcoming. While they can’t do much about the optics of a convention packed with white people, they can control who gets the podium.

Have a look at the list of convention speakers. You have a large number of Latinos, including Ted Cruz, Texas U.S. Senate nominee, Susana Martinez, New Mexico Governor, and of course, GOP darling Marco Rubio, U.S. Senator from Florida. You even have some Asians, with appearances by Nikki Haley, Governor of South Carolina, and Ishwar Singh, president of the Sikh Society of Central Florida.

GOP leaders recognize that our country is fast becoming a majority minority nation and they need to appeal to people of color, especially growing immigrant communities which will decide the outcome, if not of this year’s elections, certainly of the 2016 race and beyond.

Republicans need to understand that most of us can see through this manufactured and condescending visual. The rabid anti-immigrant rhetoric of the GOP presidential primaries is still steaming fresh in our minds. Rubio himself admitted to George Stephanopoulos that he agreed with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa when he said “you can’t just trot out a brown face or a Spanish surname and expect people are going to vote for your party or your candidate.”

“Policies matter and, look, the Republican Party does have a challenge,” Rubio said.

The platform they proudly present at the convention is not exactly endearing to us either. While Rep. Marsha Blackburn, co-chair of the Platform Committee, boasts that the platform “represents the inclusiveness of our party and reaffirms the idea that we are the ‘Big Tent Party,’” many of us see it as the exact opposite, as proof of their propensity to exclude.

The GOP platform pushes for reduction in federal spending, particularly social safety net programs. It advocates for a tax code that shamelessly favors the wealthy. It continues the Republican assault on labor unions. It declares an end to “Obamacare.” It spells out an immigration policy that focuses mainly on law enforcement and opposes any form of reprieve for undocumented immigrants.

The thing is, communities of color which are mostly middle and lower income Americans, rely on safety net programs they pay for with their taxes. These are families and individuals who will not benefit from tax breaks for wealthy Americans who do not need preferential treatment. Labor unions protect the interests of all working Americans. The president’s health care reform law has already benefited millions who would otherwise not have adequate care or any healthcare at all. Are Republicans really so tone deaf to what truly matters to immigrants, their children, and communities?

Shenanigans during the convention are also indicative of the climate that greets people of color when they step into Republican spaces. A couple of attendees threw nuts at an African American camerawoman, explaining “This is how we feed animals.” As Zoraida Fonalledas, chair of the Committee on Permanent Organization, started to speak in her accented English, some in the crowd started chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” The attendees who assaulted the camerawomen were promptly ejected and RNC chairman Reince Priebus did call for order and respect for Fonalledas, but none of the bigwigs has come forward to challenge fringe elements in their midst.

On the contrary, Mitt Romney pandered to birthers and nativists in the GOP ranks when he declared “no one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate” while campaigning in Michigan last week.

Eric Liu, former speechwriter and deputy domestic policy adviser for President Clinton and a fellow with the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University, writes:

Romney’s implicit pledge of allegiance to the birther movement is as revealing of his character as anything else in his campaign of half-deliberate opacity. He appears to lack a core capacity for empathy. He literally cannot see himself as someone not white, as someone accented or a newcomer … Romney may yet win in November. But he and this whole odious line of attack are on the losing side of history. The tide of demographics is irresistible, and soon enough it’ll sweep up his birth certificate and mine into a new notion of who is truly from this country.

Jeb Bush, who has been admonishing his party to ease up on its hardline immigration stance, told The Hill that inclusive language and policies are important symbols which reflect sensitivity for the concerns of communities of color. He also warned that if immigrant communities do not feel welcome, “we’re going to lose elections.” “That’s not opinion — that’s math,” he said.

Bush’s calculations are spot on. No matter how hard the Republican Party tries, most of us do not feel welcome. Both their words and actions belie their protestations of diversity and inclusivity.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, August 30, 2012.