GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — President Joe Biden made good on his promise to sign a number of executive orders during his first day in office. After being inaugurated Wednesday morning, he sat in the Oval Office next to a stack of blue folders and one by one signed them. A few of them made an immediate impact on the Latino community.
Adriana Almanza, who’s the associate director in the Office of Multicultural Affairs at Grand Valley State University, said one of the first things she noticed was that the Spanish language option was restored to the White House website.
“It’s just really encouraging to see on day one executive orders were signed and he is ready to hit the ground running,” said Almanza during a Zoom interview Thursday morning. “Hopefully this can turn into some great momentum particularly for our communities of color. I’m really excited about that.”
So far, Biden halted the construction of the border wall, introduced immigration reform and preserved the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which prevents deportations for undocumented people who came to the United States as children.
Almanza, who’s also a faculty member in the Latin American and Latino Studies program at GVSU, said immigration has been an agenda item in past administrations but it’s great to see it be a top priority under Biden.
“I obviously work in an institution so I work very closely with undocumented and DACA youth,” Almanza said. “I keep going back to the word encouraging because I need to see it in action. What’s been done this far is great, the rhetoric and the executive orders signed.”
She said it’ll impact millions of Latinos in Michigan and across the country.
Sarybet Gonzalez said immigration reform is what motivated her to get Latinos registered to vote during the presidential election back in November. She’s a volunteer with Movimiento Cosecha, a grassroots organization dedicated to protecting immigrants rights, and she spent many hours canvassing and educating people about the power of voting.
“There’s so many families right now that are struggling. There were 3,000,000 deportations in the Obama administration. People just are tired of promises,” Gonzalez said during an interview back in November after the election. “They want to see change and that showed with the votes that were counted. There’s kids right now as we speak at the border that are being treated completely inhumane.”
During the interview, Gonzalez held up a large silver blanket that the children at the border are given. It’s as thin as a sheet of paper and resembles aluminum foil. She said it infuriates her that they’re treated this way.
“When I see this, I’m reminded of the 545 children that there’s no registry, no records of where their families are, the three million families that are destroyed and separated. Children being ripped from the arms of their mothers and fathers, caregivers, at the border.” Gonzalez said. “It’s completely inhumane and it reminds me of the Nazi times, the Holocaust and it’s crazy that that's still happening today.”
During Biden’s campaign, he vowed to help reunite those families. Gonzalez believes the Latino Community will hold him to it and all issues impacting their community.
“Some of the top issues for Latino voters are the same for most voters, which is to get COVID under control [and] get the economy back working,” said Michigan State University Political Science Professor Eric Gonzalez Juenke during a Zoom interview on Thursday afternoon. “Most politicians campaign on things and they followed through on them and that’s what you get when you win elections.”
Professor Gonzalez Juenke is also a part of MSU’s Chicano Studies program. He said as of right now it’s hard to determine how Biden will do as a president and how the executive orders will pan out.
However he believes Biden has the opportunity to build trust with Latino voters, and all people, even in its smallest measurement. The bust of civil rights activist Cesar Chavez on the mantle behind his desk in the Oval Office is a good start.
“It’s such a small thing but it shows somebody, whether it’s Biden or somebody in his group, that said ‘this is important. We’re going to put this as a symbolic gesture that is really meaningful,'” said Gonzalez Juenke. “So, they’re thinking about the Latino coalition, the Latino part of the party. And then it also really does indicate that they are signaling to Latinos that we’re going to be here for you.”