Obama and the Immigration Conundrum
Over the past weeks, President Obama has faced incrementing pressure from immigration activists who demanded that he should halt deportations and “stop breaking families apart.” Just this past weekend, hundreds of protestors marched down to the White House ordering the President halt deportations. On top of that, The New York Times Editorial Board released an editorial blasting the President’s deportation policies and demanded that he decrease the deportations of non-convicted undocumented immigrants who are detained.
Frankly, a year ago, it would have seemed unimaginable that Latino activists would turn on the President. While in the past, a small minority had protested agencies such as ICE, none of them had set their aim at the President. Yet, that is the current immigration reform strategy being used by a growing number of immigration-reform supporters.
To make matters worse, Obama is also facing pressure from the right who say that they cannot move forward because they do not trust the President with handling immigration reform. At times it seems perplexing how both sides can see the administration’s policies and deportation numbers so differently. From the Latino activist’s perspective, they see a President who has deported about 2 million people in his presidency. From the right, they see a President that has bent the immigration policies and has not been tough enough on immigration. From a purely number standpoint, one would think Republican’s would be content or at least be accepting that more people have been deported under Obama than any other administration.
Yet articles being released by conservative newspapers, such as Newsmax, are saying the opposite. Delroy Murdock, a Hoover Institute Fellow at Stanford University, cited figures from the Center for Immigration Studies as further evidence that Obama has selectively enforced immigration laws in his new article titled “GOP Can’t Trust Obama on Immigration Reform.” “Last year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials freed 67,879 illegal-alien criminal convicts, rather than detain or deport them. The Center for Immigration Studies calls this “Catch and Release.” To make Obama appear weaker on immigration, he pointed to a new memo from Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher in where he states, “Agents shall not discharge firearms in response to thrown or hurled projectiles, agents should obtain a tactical advantage in these situations, such as seeking cover or distancing themselves.” He then cited the Police Executive Research Forum who argues the new orders from Fisher place agents in danger and weakens the agencies’ mission.
Meanwhile, immigration activists have claimed the opposite. They argue the immigration enforcement mechanism has grown too aggressive and militarized. In the New York Times editorial, “Yes he can, on immigration,” the Times said, “the administration needs to find ways to turn off the deportation machinery when it gets abused.” Moreover, in another Times article released this week, they claim that Obama has not kept his promise and has deported thousands of immigrants who have no criminal record. Only about one third of all the people deported under his tenure are convicted criminals. They argue this deportation blunder is breaking up families and disrupting communities across the nation. That anger was seen this past weekend at the protest outside the White House. The protest was part of the #Not1MoreDeportation campaign that included rallies across dozens of cities in the country last week. On their website, the campaign is asking the President to use his executive powers to temporarily halt deportations of the millions of people that would potentially benefit from “the near term congressional action on immigration.”
Only time will tell how Obama will respond to both of these pressures. In response to Latino activist’s demands, he ordered the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to look into more humane ways in terms of deportation policies. In terms of outreach to Republicans, it’s a little murkier. Some partially blame the high number of deportations under Obama as a way he tried to show Republicans that he was tough on immigration. Clearly this strategy has not worked with many of them, and he has paid a heavy price in the process. The fact stands that in the current House Republican support will be needed to pass any form of comprehensive immigration reform. Campaigns such as #Not1MoreDeportation might not be helping the President in his quest for immigration reform nor for the movement itself either.
Looking back at when the President took office, perhaps one of the ways he could have avoided this fight was by clearly stating his administration’s policies towards deportation. The absence of this has caused his administration to sometimes sway one direction one day and another direction the next day. David Martin, former Deputy General Counsel at the Department of Homeland Security, articulated this problem best with these words: “It would have been better for the administration to state its enforcement intentions clearly and stand by them, rather than being willing to lean whichever way seemed politically expedient at any given moment. He also stated, “They lost credibility on enforcement, despite all the deportations, while letting activists think they could always get another concession if they just blamed Obama. It was a pipe dream to think they could make everyone happy.”
Carlos Vera is a Staff Writer at Latino Giant. Originally from Colombia, Carlos grew up in Southern California and has served in the Army Reserves since 2011. He is a junior at American University, pursuing a degree in Political Science. He is currently studying abroad in Brussels where is he is a Legislative Intern at the European Parliament. He is passionate about the intersection between policy, advocacy and community development as it pertains to Latinos in United States.