Obama’s Immigration Reform is “Pure Hypocrisy”

Of Guatemalan origin and an undocumented resident in Chicago, Ilka Oliva Corado is a prolific writer inspired by social struggles for the rights of the undocumented and of sexual diversity and against gender and racial discrimination in the heart of the empire. In this exclusive interview for El Diario de Nuestra América (The Newspaper of Our America), the author analyses with a clear focus the difficult situation of her compatriots in the pre-electoral context of a country governed for seven years by the “first black President in its history.”


Ilka Oliva Corado (Comapa, Jutiapa, Guatemala) is a columnist for several media outlets, essayist and poet. Her last published work in November 2015 is a book of poems, Light of the Lighthouse.

Alex Anfruns: What is the current situation of the Latin American community in the United States?

Ilka Oliva Corado: The Latin Americans are discriminated against in the United States while it is unusual for immigrants of any country of Europe, Asia or Africa to be discriminated against or for someone from these continents be deported. They would really have to do something serious to be deported. In contrast, the undocumented Latin Americans are discriminated against by the police for even a traffic violation which they often invent to deport Latinos.

AA: How?

IOC: The police manage a certain profile. For example, the Mexican community is the largest here. The Mexicans usually drive a four-wheel drive van (the Cherokees, Toyotas, Suburbans, the pickups are also four-wheel drives) because in Latin America it is usually a car that is used for all kinds of terrain, although here the terrain is paved, everything is smooth. As such there is no reason to buy one of these cars… the terrain does not call for it, but the issue is achieving a dream. The people who come here to make a life dream of having one of these cars which they never had in their country. When the police see one of these cars on the highway, they check the number plate and immediately detain them, although they have not violated any traffic law. They detain them because they know that 90% of those driving these are Latin Americans or Mexicans. The first thing they ask for is documents. If they don’t have them, they’ll be deported. This is the profile they manage.

AA: And in the workplace?

IOC: At work when a black person seeks the same work as a Latino, the latter is paid $3 dollars an hour while the black person is paid $8, that is the minimum wage. It’s like this in every kind of work: factories, cleaning homes, clearing the snow, in construction… always, for being Latin American, they’ll pay you less than the minimum wage, they are going to get more hours out of you, they’re not going to pay you for the extra hours… something that does not happen with other migrants. Another example: there’s a law here that if you work on a holiday, you’ve to be paid double. The Latinos are made to work and are paid like on a normal day.

AA: How do you see the relation between the different Latin American migrant communities?

IOC: In terms of organisation, the Mexicans are more organised, that’s how it is. They’ve done a lot of work on human rights, on the question of gender violence, in the fight for working rights. There is a large and strong organisation which is the oldest here, that of Dolores Huerta and of Cesar Chavez, who’s dead. They were born here but of Mexican parents. They organised a huge demonstration in 1966 for the labour rights of the farm workers in the grape fields of California. They achieved with these massive demonstrations and general strike that all the vine owners and the Californian government gave them their working rights. This was and is a very strong organisation. But as communities here, the Central Americans, the Mexicans, the South Americans and the Chicanos are very divided. Each one does things for themselves. And this is the problem, that we don’t unite as a community, for example around the issue of the undocumented. We have such weight that if we could unite, we would be able to transform the issue of immigration reform. But divisionism exists. I speak to you of organisations, because as communities fear prevails. Well, many of these organisations exist in name only because they’re used as stepping stones by those who manage these to climb to government posts, either here or in their countries of origin.

AA: Nevertheless, the United States has historically been formed as a country with the effort of people who have come from other places. How does one understand that a multi-cultural model is extolled and at the same time there is elitism or racism that you’re describing?

IOC: Remember that for them the migrant is an “Anglo” (Anglo Saxon). They don’t see us, Latin Americans, as people. If a Latin American comes here to the country to work in a business, including with papers, s/he doesn’t amount to anything, s/he is invisible. If they are invisible even with the papers, it is even worse for us, the undocumented. Because for them Latin America is a backyard, the least in education, in culture. The United States sees the Latin Americans as those that clean the bathroom. Although you come to work as an engineer, a chemist, you’ll always be seen by them as a bathroom cleaner. And this is clearly evident in social gatherings, in a restaurant, in something as simple as chucking you out of the seat of the bus.

Here even the black people fight the Latinos to death! For racism, the Latino tells the black person that he is rubbish. And the black person tells the Latin that he is rubbish for being a Latino. This does not happen with the other communities like the Asians, it can usually be seen between the blacks and the Latinos. Because they fight over work, for example in McDonald’s or Burger King and in these places it is the Latinos and the blacks who do the cleaning and flip the burgers. You’re never going to see an Asian, an Italian or a Pole do this… you’ll never see them. They come for other kind of work.

AA: Is it to do with organising the division?

IOC: Exactly. The Europeans, for example, come to work in house painting, decoration and in house constructions, the Europeans do it. The Asians come to the restoration market as businessmen. The Africans come to work like us but as the bosses of the Latinos. It could be that both are undocumented but the other gets the job of the boss of the Latino for being an African, though both could be equally skilled. But the major phenomenon of discrimination produced in this country is against the Latinos. Even the police assassinate the Latinos as if they were dogs, every day, in whichever state of the country. And you’re not going to see this covered in the news, not even in the Hispanic news. Because Telemundo, Univision, Spanish CNN are Hispanic media but Right-wing.

Their function here is to deceive the Latin migrant community that this is country is the “American dream”. They’ll never speak clearly on foreign policy, except when it is to favour them. And that one has to thank Obama for having spoken of the migrants, one has to kiss Obama’s feet. Meanwhile, the immigration reform is pure hypocrisy, because no President can arrive at the White House without the vote of the Latin community, because we’re millions here. They need us in politics and for this use the theme of the undocumented as a springboard.

AA: Exactly, after these two terms of Obama how do you see the situation of the Left in the United States?

IOC: Everything in this country has been coopted. There is no real Leftist Latin media. They have the appearance of being of the Left but at the end are of the Right. Every one of them supported Obama when his candidacy was being launched. At the beginning it was like this: “well he’s a black President, have to give him a chance”. In Chicago, the streets were packed with Hispanic and black people crying, everyone was happy because Obama had been elected President and the same in the second presidency; the guy represented an opportunity. Soon the poor folk imagined another Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. But Obama does not reach even up to his heels.

If one takes note, historically the Democrats have been utilising the question of immigration reform for more than 20 years. And they’ve been utilising it because it is supposedly a party, shall we say, of the Left. Really? Because on the other side are the Republicans who manage the project of massive deportation. But here you have Obama, who spoke of executive action just a few days before Thanksgiving Day and said that it was a “thanksgiving” to the undocumented.

That papers were supposedly to be given to the immigrants who had children born in the United States. This immediately set off the short circuit in the country where the Klu Klux Klan has an enormous influence. They speak of a figure of 11 million undocumented but at the very least we’re 25 million. The issue is that Obama lied and the Latin community is disappointed, but Hillary Clinton is utilising the same platform. This woman has already hitched up with all the communities the way Obama did with the youth and the Latinos. With her, the slogan is that it is now a woman’s turn (yes it is, but not her) and she utilises the platform of feminism and the undocumented. But at the end we’re going to see that they (the candidates) are puppets of the immense power that the expressly U.S. capitalist system has. Its heart is in the Congress and in the Lower House, in the judicial circuit where the Klu Klux Klan swarms. The President only obeys orders like a good lackey.

AA: What capacity do the social movements have so that the undocumented have some influence in the next elections?

IOC: None. For example, there is an organisation of the “Dreamers”. They’re a group formed two years ago, of high school and university students, who came here as children and grew up here. They asked to be given papers and organised in movements and Obama gave them the papers and told them: “When they graduate, they’ll have permission to work”. But the same group that already has its papers does not support the undocumented who work gathering rubbish, picking onions, as builders… the people who put their shoulders for the country, isn’t it?

Well, they don’t support them, they don’t speak for them, they don’t make use of the space. They have their papers and have forgotten of the rest. That everyone has to move on with their lives. Indeed? This is selfishness, inhuman. The struggle is for everyone, either all or none.

All the speeches that Obama gave, for those that see it from the outside, is that of the most “humane” President on the question of the undocumented. But he has been the President to deport the largest number of undocumented in U.S. history. How to understand this double standard? How do you want the undocumented to have papers if you’re deporting them in massive numbers? Deporting people grabbed at bus stations, on leaving restaurants, discotheques, when they go to concerts… for example, when the Pope came. With the millions of people who were here to receive him, they engaged in deportations. Which media informed of these deportations? None, neither the ones in English nor the Hispanic ones.

A few days ago, the Appeals Court again froze the executive action and the benefits of the “Dreamers”. Now these pretentious ones are in the same state as us who work in offices and this happens to the selfish and the humble. The struggle has to be for everyone. Another clear example: the anti-Latin American declarations of Trump are exactly what the greater part of the U.S. people believe in. They demonise the fellow but he only says before the television cameras what the majority says in any place. Dolores Huerta spoke of boycott but the Latin community keeps quiet. These mediocre artistes keep quiet. These defenders of immigrants keep quiet. These human rights organisations keep quiet. It was the moment to take to the streets and make the country tremble. But it’s gone.

AA: What is your vision about Hollywood’s culture of spectacle? What repurcussions does this violence that can be perceived in U.S. culture have on society?

IOC: Well, with the question of Syria for example. We’ve seen some artistes signing a letter rejecting war. And Hollywood came down on them! Hollywood is of the recalcitrant Right, xenophobic. It is the Klu Klux Klan. Recently, Viola Davis received an Emmy. She is black and received that Emmy as the best actress. She gave a speech and you have to have guts to speak like that for you know they could shut the doors on you immediately. There are progressive people in Hollywood, of course there are. But the problem is that when they dare to speak they know that their wings will be clipped. But Viola did it; she spoke of the racial discrimination in Hollywood with black actresses.

But, for example, with that Mexican film director, Iñárritu, who won three Oscars some time ago: well, at no point did he speak of the undocumented. Till Sean Penn, who is an actor as well, gave him the final Oscar as the best film director. He said something that insulted him with a joke. But knowing Penn’s work, I understood it as a slap that said something like: “Look, idiot, if you’re Mexican, speak up for your people!” If one’s own people, who are at these exalted platforms, don’t make use of these spaces to speak of those who don’t have a voice, how to expect of the gringos to do it?

And in Hollywood there is recalcitrant racism. They have undocumented people working for them and they’re not paid the minimum wage. The same in Disneyland. No Hollywood artiste never spoke up, neither Penelpe Cruz nor Javier Bardem, never. If they don’t do it being Latinos, who do you expect to do it? Nevertheless, both signed the letter in defence of Gaza against the genocidal government of Israel. I’m sure this reduced their work opportunities in Hollywood. Perhaps one day these Latino artistes who work in the U.S. industry perhaps will have the courage to speak of the undocumented and sign a letter that’s put up on stage that value their human condition.

AA: And in the information chain, even with symbolic Afro-American or Latino television presenters, do you think the situation of the undocumented could find a voice?

IOC: These English-language media, they’re so “polite” (ironically put), I don’t know any other people who’re as diplomatic as Americans in these things. They follow protocol. They stop and say, “Well, Obama, we’re for immigration reform…” Yes, they say they’re for immigration reform, but they don’t cover the news of a Hispanic policeman who’s assassinated. This is something they have to denounce and don’t.

They maintain this double standard. They don’t attend, for example, the complaints of gender violence that takes place daily. “Yes, the Latin community is important”. “Yes, there are undocumented and these people deserve papers”. But up to here. For example, the media that swoon for the crisis in Syria are incapable of questioning Israel’s role in the region and that of the United States in provoking the crisis. They see it as a crisis of refugees but don’t denounce the genocide or the assault that Israel and the United States are spearheading in these territories and one of the consequences of which is the refugee crisis.

AA: Historically, there have been many noble struggles in this country, like that against the Vietnam War or for civil rights. What is the actual dynamic of the visibilisation of the Afro-Americans with the Black Lives Matter movement?

IOC: They denounce what’s happening. But the thing is that they absorb you. They raise the voice of the people but capitalism and the Right here are so absorbent that almost doesn’t let them be interviewed. You’re never going to see in the potent media here in the United States that they give space for an interview where they can speak. There are alternative media that two or three people read, in truth. This can’t be compared with the impact that radio or television have in the United States with that power.

They are fighting, there are various organisations that take note and archives all the discrimination. Tomes and tomes on all types of violence. All that the Afro community lives, all that the undocumented community lives. But they remain archived. Because when you go to the court to make a denunciation, the system is so corrupt, so “Klu Klux Klan” that even if you take with you a girl who’s been raped and chopped up into two, they don’t believe you. The roles are inverted. It is most rare that an Afro-descendant makes a complaint and is believed. Though he has all the proof. It is practically impossible.

AA: The U.S. Left has any influence in this context?

IOC: Well, there’s the Communist Party (without any influence, more for nostalgia than for anything else) that comes out every May Day to demonstrate. It has a tremendous organisation because it achieves demonstrations of thousands of people. But ultimately, with all that this system gobbles up, they’re just a tiny voice. They’re dubbed as being mad. In this country, the people don’t have ideology. They’re so steeped in consumerism, their brains have been washed so much since childhood and in the schools that anything that questions it or that implies thinking and analysis doesn’t have sufficient force.

AA: Is the racism you mentioned in the judiciary related with the sense of superiority and the neo-colonial attitude so typical of the North and the “West”?

IOC: In fact, it’s something that the United States has but also Latin America. It could even be more marked in Latin America than in the United States. And I tell you this with all the pain in my heart. But let’s speak of the United States. The gringos see the Latin women as sex workers Like Kamasutra and all that all one can imagine attached to it. That’s how we’re seen, never as people. For them, a Latin woman who comes here wants to marry a gringo to better her race, to have children with green or blue eyes and to immediately change the surname.

Of course, there are others who don’t think like that, there are those who study humanities and sociology in the universities, people who’re in organisations with immigrants, on questions of human rights, torture. These type of people see us differently. But as a community when you arrive in the United States you encounter a cold, frozen wall. It is not even cultural because the United States does not even have culture.

And returning to the beginning: here there is a jumble of culture, of people who have emigrated from all over the world. The Americans don’t have a fixed type of culture. But there certainly is white supremacy. The Klu Klux Klan is white supremacy. Many of them say they knew the world and no longer need to go to any place because, well, they went on holiday to Europe. The rest doesn’t exist for them.

And you can see this in the children. From five years onwards, the parents tell them: “She is servant, here is the childminder”. At parks, they tell them: “This child is black, don’t play with him”, “the other child is Hispanic, don’t go with him because he isn’t your equal”, “you’re superior”. How to expect that in adulthood an American will see us as equals? I’ve had the privilege of working as a servant. And when you’re a servant, one is another piece of furniture. They think you don’t hear, that you don’t feel. You listen to conversations though you don’t want to because you’re there cleaning and you listen to the conversations they have. They speak ill of the undocumented but when they leave their doors and in a conversation or in a social event say, “Sure, we support immigration reform”. But even so, though it hurts, the worse enemy and oppressor a Latin American could have in the United States is another Latin American.

Translated by Supriyo Chatterjee, Tlaxcala

Alex Anfruns is a lecturer, journalist and editor-in-chief of independent media outlet Investig’Action in Brussels. In 2007 he helped direct the documentary “Palestina, la verdad asediada. Voces por la paz” (available with Catalan, Spanish, English and Arabic subtitles). Between 2009 and 2014 he made several trips to Egypt and the occupied Palestinian territories. He has edited the monthly Journal de Notre Amérique since 2015. Read other articles by Alex.