As Arizona and about ten other US states mull more draconian anti-immigration laws, the Obama Administration still has not gotten fully engaged in this festering problem. Distracted by the British Petroleum (BP) company oil spill the largest and potentially the most devastating in US history President Obama is now caught up in a looming ecological catastrophe not of his own making. He's also keeping a wary eye on Iraq and Afghanistan where in recent times things appear to be slipping back into the same old deadly days of the Bush Administration.
So immigration has been placed on the back shelf by the Obama Administration due to a combination of international and domestic challenges and an uncooperative Republican Party that will fight tooth and nail to make sure that no immigration debate reaches Congress before Presidential Elections in 2012. However, the president walks a dangerous tight rope because independent voters, the left and liberals - who form an important plank of his support base - want to see movement on immigration reform. Many feel betrayed by the Administration's foot-dragging and are impatient with the snail's pace towards reform.
President Obama knows that this dissatisfaction with him and his inability to deal with comprehensive immigration reform will have a net negative impact when the November mid-term elections come around. Still, he's literally damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. Should he try to appease the left and liberals by tackling immigration he runs the risk of giving both the Republican Party and its bastard horn-child, the Tea Party Movement, campaign talking points about his coddling of the undocumented that could cause voters to bolt from the Democratic Party.
On the other hand, should he ignore and defer immigration reform, putting it off for a more favorable time, he's going to draw the continued anger of the liberal and left sections of the voting population that helped get him elected. The danger in inaction is by this inaction he will give the green light to other states, especially those with Republican administrations, to not only imitate Arizona but lunge further to the right as they grapple with what is a federal issue.
So when President Obama recently decided to send an additional 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexican border because of escalating violence in Mexican border towns his intent was to appease the right wing and the Republican Party that has long called for securing America's borders as part of any immigration reform. The president was no doubt calculating that by appearing tough on illegal immigration and giving Republicans what they want the quid pro quo would be established for him to deal with immigration reform sometime in the future. It was a down payment on comprehensive reform of sorts.
But if that is the president's reasoning I have to say that it is deeply flawed and only forces him to ideologically and philosophically shift to the right on immigration reform. In short, his actions, far from laying the foundation for constructive, comprehensive immigration reform will only complicate matters more. It is precisely this policy of trading immigration votes by tacking on punitive, over-kill law enforcement as part of the deal that has created a deformed, lop-sided system that is top-heavy with enforcement and little else. What we have today is a system that focuses on rounding up, locking up, and deporting as many undocumented immigrants as possible while offering almost no legal way for them to regularize their status.
The end result is that under the Obama Administration the United States has deported more people than ever in United States history - a whopping 390,000 in 2009 alone. The conclusion to be drawn from this statistic is that the set of immigration laws that the US now has are effective in tracking, arresting, apprehending, and removing from America people who overstayed their time and have no legal documents.
Correspondingly, in the first year of the Obama Administration $10.1 billion was spent on border patrol that is an 82 percent increase from five years earlier when President George W. Bush was in the White House. The flaw here is that border security and crime prevention is not the same thing as immigration reform. Nor is criminalizing 12 million people because they do not have a valid Social Security number or permission to work in the United States because they overstayed their time.
By taking a tough stance on immigration now in hopes of getting bipartisan support for some form of immigration reform law later down the road President Obama is taking a big gamble. Big stick politics putting muscle on the border, arresting and deporting people and casting a blind eye to the overboard actions of states like Arizona has never worked and there is no indication that this is going to change now or in the future. So he's simply going to have all stick and no carrot to show for his efforts.
That's been tried before with near disastrous results the last time in 2007. Today, the immigration climate is a very contentious one because of the failure of Washington and the Obama Administration to push for meaningful immigration reform. There is never going to be a right or perfect time so waiting for one is a fool's errand. The upsurge in arrests, detentions, deportations, profiling, workplace raids, restriction and denial of basic human rights are the results of the many games played by both Republicans and Democrats when it comes to immigration.
President Obama has just joined the game by obliquely giving his approval for criminalizing the undocumented as evidenced by the escalation of raids, deportations and the like. While saying publicly that he favors immigration reform that includes the undocumented paying a fine and "going to the back of the line" as a way to regularize their status, the disruption and breakup of families continue at an alarming rate.
The president's swing to the right on immigration was completed with his quiet reauthorization of the Patriot Act, the fact that the Secure Communities program that have deputized local cops to act as immigration enforcement officers that has effectively driven millions of people underground and the stepped up workplace raids have all helped to make the immigration climate in the United States one of the most difficult for the foreign born. Trouble is while progressive elements who back the president cling to the hope that in order to get some form of comprehensive immigration reform Democrats must first demonstrate toughness on "those who break our laws" states are simply doing their own thing.
President Obama must be made aware of the following. The Republican Party and Republicans in the House of Representatives and the Senate have a one-sided, one-track, hammer-handed approach to immigration reform they see illegal immigration as breaking the law and as a consequence favor the large-scale round up of 12 million undocumented immigrants and deport them as the solution. They want to circle the wagons and make the US border military outposts. To achieve this goal they criminalize and demonize the undocumented because it is easier to deny any and all right to people who are deemed "criminal."
On the other hand the progressive Left and liberal sections of the Democratic Party and the United States population while recognizing that the undocumented broke the law by overstaying their time in the US argue that there are here any not going anywhere so offering them a path to regularization makes sense. They argue that bringing 12 million people on the federal tax rolls creates an immediate financial windfall in the billions of dollars. Plus, by bringing the undocumented out of the shadows makes it more difficult for terrorists to recruit them to do America harm.
Democrats, and I hope President Obama included, would argue for a progressive immigration law that opens a pathway for the undocumented to "go to the back of the line," learn English, pay a fine, and ultimately regularize their status. The president must reject the flawed and failed approaches of the Republican Party and its ultra-conservative element. He must not see immigration as a national security issue and resist the temptation to demonize the undocumented mistakenly thinking that's going to buy Republican and conservative favor.
The president must push for an immigration law that is in keeping with the best traditions of American history that include a humane, just and fair policy that treats everyone as human beings. He must throw down the immigration gauntlet and dare the Republican Party and its minions to "just say no."