The Pro-Migrant President We Elected Has Become A Nativist

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During the 2008 Presidential campaign Barack Obama promised us he would make comprehensive immigration reform a "top priority" in his first year as President:

Well, I don't know about you, but I think it's time for a President who won't walk away from something as important as comprehensive reform when it becomes politically unpopular.  And that's the commitment I'm making to you.  I marched with you in the streets of Chicago.  I fought with you in the Senate for comprehensive immigration reform.  And I will make it a top priority in my first year as President.  Not just because we need to secure our borders and get control of who comes into our country.  And not just because we have to crack down on employers abusing undocumented immigrants.  But because we have to finally bring those 12 million people out of the shadows. 
Barack Obama - Citizen Orange (13 July 2008)
After hearing promises like that, pro-migrant voters, specifically Latino voters, turned out for Obama in record numbers and helped get him elected. 

It's been two years since Obama made those promises to us.  Not only has policy failed to change under the Obama administration, but the war on migrants has actually gotten worse.  Barack Obama promised to make immigration a "top priority" in his first year as President.  Now, a year and a half into his Presidency, all we have is a speech.
I will admit that, at this point, after losing close friends before they were given the right to exist in the only country they knew as their home, after fighting deportation after deportation during Obama's presidency, Barack Obama's speech would have had to be written by God for it to have impressed me. 

What I did not expect was that Barack Obama's speech would make me want to vomit.  Those of you following my reactions on twitter (starting with this tweet) witnessed the visceral reaction I had to Obama's speech.  I've tried to be more intentional and less reactionary with my social media use over the last couple of years, but in this case, I couldn't help it. 

The last time I watched Barack Obama speak extensively on immigration policy was two years ago at the annual National Council of La Raza conference.  The difference between that speech and his recent speech is night and day.  It's the difference between a pro-migrant President, and a nativist President.  There were points where Barack Obama's rhetoric was indistinguishable from that of ALIPAC, CIS, FAIR, NumbersUSA, and VDARE.

Policy wise, I already knew that Obama was carrying out the nativists' war of "attrition through enforcement", but I guess I didn't realize Obama was a nativist in my heart until I heard him call members of my community "illegal" over a dozen times in a major speech. 

The phrase "no human being is illegal" is the founding principle of the modern pro-migrant movement.  "No human being is illegal" is the verbalization of the essence which unites us.  It is impossible to be truly pro-migrant if you contribute to the criminalization of human existence by describing human beings as "illegal".

I would have forgiven Obama's nativist language if he had laid out concrete plan for changing the horrific status quo.  In this world, actions do more to create change than words.  However, as almost any knowledgeable source on U.S. immigration policy will tell you, Obama's speech did nothing to move the debate forward.  At best, Obama was all talk and no action, at worst, Obama's speech was a cynical move to shore up the Latino vote in time for the midterm elections. 

Most telling to me was the following response to migrant advocates who have demanded that Barack Obama stop terrorizing our communities:

There are those in the immigrants' rights community who have argued passionately that we should simply provide those who are [here] illegally with legal status, or at least ignore the laws on the books and put an end to deportation until we have better laws.  And often this argument is framed in moral terms:  Why should we punish people who are just trying to earn a living?

I recognize the sense of compassion that drives this argument, but I believe such an indiscriminate approach would be both unwise and unfair.  It would suggest to those thinking about coming here illegally that there will be no repercussions for such a decision.  And this could lead to a surge in more illegal immigration.  And it would also ignore the millions of people around the world who are waiting in line to come here legally.

Ultimately, our nation, like all nations, has the right and obligation to control its borders and set laws for residency and citizenship.  And no matter how decent they are, no matter their reasons, the 11 million who broke these laws should be held accountable.
Barack Obama - White House (1 July 2010)
If Obama wants to hold our communities accountable because some people committed the "crime" of seeking a better life for themselves and their families, Obama can be sure that we will hold him accountable for the suffering and terror he is responsible for.

With this speech, Obama has fully taken responsibility for enforcing some of the most unjust laws that have ever been imposed on humanity.  An entire generation of U.S. citizens will remember the terror Obama was responsible for carrying out.  Lest we forget, seven-year-olds like Daisy Cuevas can grasp truths that even some migrant advocates can forget in the toxic environment of Washington D.C.

"My mom says that Barack Obama is taking away everybody that doesn't have papers," Daisy told the U.S. first lady on May 19 at the New Hampshire Estates Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland.

"Well, that's something that we have to work on, right, to make sure that people can be here with the right kind of papers," Michelle Obama replied.

"But my mom doesn't have papers," said Daisy, a U.S. citizen by virtue of her birth.
Carla Salazar - Associated Press (31 May 2010)
Seven-year-old Daisy Cuevas understands that Barack Obama is responsible for tearing our communities apart, and this speech finally made me fully understand it.  I'm certainly not voting for anyone who's responsible for tearing my community apart.

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Despite Obama's nativist rhetoric, and the Obama administration's failure to include Latino and/or pro-migrant bloggers in the following roundtable, I was happy to have come across Cecilia Muñoz, the White House's Director of Intergovernmental Affairs,... Read More

In case you missed it, Barack Obama had this to say about immigration during his State of the Union address last night:One last point about education. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are... Read More


janna Author Profile Page said:

Thank you Kyle, for vocalizing the disappointment I feel toward Obama. I remember the great sense of relief and the hope we all felt when we elected him. Our hope has turned to dismay and finally to anger as we've seen his promises go unfulfilled, and deportations increase. Although the high profile Postville type raids are fewer, people are still being detained and deported, little by little, in ways that attract less media attention.

I also want to say thank-you, Kyle. I was also very disappointed by the speech, sigh. All talk, no action.

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This page contains a single entry by kyledeb published on July 4, 2010 6:57 PM.

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