Accountability Moment: Obama and Senate Democrats Are Holding Back Immigration Reform
The speakers on March 21 included advocates, immigrants, and a fair number of politicians. President Obama even spoke in a recorded message about his sorrow for the families that are torn apart by the broken immigration system. The crowd was silent during his message and gave him a massive cheer when it was done. The mood that day was exuberant and hopeful.
The mood at yesterday's May 1 rally in D.C. was one of anger and betrayal. Speakers talked about President Obama's broken promises, his failure to promote immigration reform, and his continued support for programs like 287(g) and InSecure Communities that lead to racial profiling by local law enforcement. They talked about the 400,000 people deported in Obama's first year of office, more than any single year of the Bush administration. Children spoke of their parents currently in the process of being deported by President Obama, and they asked him not to break up their families.
The immigrant community is starting to realize that, when it comes to immigration policy, President Obama and the Senate Democrats have been saying one thing and doing another. They express regret for family separation, for the workers who have paid into the tax base for decades but still face deportation, and for the DREAM Act students brought here as infants who live under the shadow of exile. But through their actions, they wholly support the status quo enforcement-only immigration system.
President Obama's DHS continues to defend the fatally flawed 287(g) program which permits and encourages local police like Sheriff Joe Arpaio to engage in rampant racial profiling. Obama's point person on immigration reform, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, is too busy trying to meet ramped-up deportation quotas and dealing with ICE scandals to focus on mobilizing political support for immigration reform. Most importantly, Obama's ICE continues to deport immigrants--family members of citizens, Dream-eligible students, workers, homeowners, taxpayers--at a rate of 1,000 a day.
Senate Democrats continue to appropriate more and more money for ICE's enforcement operations. Senate Democrats have still not introduced an immigration bill, though they keep pretending to. In March, they announced a blueprint. Last week, they announced a plan. In the hope of appeasing Senate Republicans and their nativist constituents, Senate Democrats keep moving the legislative goalposts to the right in a pathetic display of self-bamboozlement. But there is still no bill! Moreover, key Senate Democrats like Senator Schumer and Senator Menendez refuse to allow a vote on the DREAM Act based on the pretense that they are busy fighting for comprehensive reform. Liars!
Much of the focus yesterday was on Arizona's new racial profiling law. The renewed national focus on immigration due to the Arizona law accounted for the cameras and reporters at yesterday's rally that were mostly missing on March 21. But those at yesterday's rally understood that Arizona's law only has bite in the context of the failed national enforcement-only immigration system. And that President Obama could kneecap the bill easily enough by instructing ICE to withhold cooperation from Arizona law enforcement. (Click here to ask him to exactly that.)
But President Obama and Senate Democrats are more afraid of nativist conservatives who will never vote for a Democrat than they are of Latin@ voters who helped give them their current majority and helped put Obama in the White House. Their plan to say one thing and do another worked as long as their pro-migrant constituents were kept in the dark. The Reform Immigration for America campaign (RIFA) and other immigrant advocacy organizations have facilitated this program of deception by giving President Obama an uncontested platform to deceive the marchers on March 21, by urging the grassroots to rally without telling them who is on their side and who isn't, and by failing to communicate to the grassroots the dismal political conditions for immigration reform. By doing this, RIFA risks burning out the grassroots again, who came out in force in 2006 only to find stepped-up deportation quotas and a lack of political support. This strategy of deception also represents a missed opportunity: to mobilize the grassroots with urgency and anger against the fake allies in the Senate who rely on their political support.
If President Obama and Senate Democrats want to avoid the wrath of the immigrant community and its allies, they must push for rational immigration reform rather than a retread of enforcement-only laws that fail harder the more restrictive they become. They must understand that they cannot lie to their constituents without facing consequences. They should believe that Congressman Gutierrez's civil disobedience yesterday is only the beginning of actions that target Democrats, not Republicans, as the current obstacle to immigration reform.
Senate Democrats should stop the charade and introduce their own immigration bill without GOP support. They should push it forward to force each Senator to show whether he or she is for the immigrant community or against it. They will learn, as Senator Reid is learning, that when you rely on votes from the immigrant community to stay in office, immigration is only a political liability when you fail to act.
Then if, as everyone in the Senate expects, immigration reform fails to pass this year, the Senate should call the DREAM Act for a vote and push it through so their Latin@ constituents don't stay home from the polls en masse in November.
Senate Democrats have failed to support immigration reform as a human rights and civil rights issue--most of them simply don't see it in those terms. So it is up to the immigrant rights community to ensure they see it in terms they can understand: as one protester put it, "Democrats, don't count on us again if we can't count on you now."
[Image: Luke Sharrett/The New York Times]
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Despite my serious reservations with the Democratic Party based on Democrats': Failure to pass any pro-migrant legislation despite holding the White House and large majorities in both houses of CongressFailure to introduce any comprehensive immigration... Read More
The failure of the Democrats to pass the DREAM Act in December prompted the Washington Post and Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) to declare President Obama's immigration reform strategy a failure. Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum expl... Read More