U.S. Immigration Reform: August 2010 Archives

Border wall.jpgDespite the "all or nothing" rhetoric with which Democrats in Congress have shot down proposed piecemeal reforms like the DREAM Act in defense of comprehensive immigration reform, Democrats are perfectly ok with passing piecemeal reforms--as long as they ramp up enforcement and deliver nothing of value to the immigrant community. On Thursday, Senate Democrats introduced a $600 billion million border enforcement bill that will further militarize the border while getting nothing in return for the immigrant community. America's Voice chided Democrats for continuing "to play a losing game of catch-up to politicians like Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio."

Republicans like John McCain are thrilled that Democrats are doing their work for them to punish immigrants until they leave on their own, a policy known as "enforcement through attrition":

"Although, there is a great deal more to be done, I believe today Democrats finally put good policy over politics and agreed we must secure our border first," McCain said in a statement.

With strong Republican support, the bill was quickly approved by the Senate. Democrats for a long time now have been good at pretending to be allies of the immigrant community to court the Latin@ vote, but bad at actually delivering any legislation that does more than further penalize the immigrant community.

The Mexican newspaper El Universal reported that Senator Schumer rejected attempts to attach the DREAM Act and AgJobs to the border enforcement bill. (Hat tip Jose Franco of the DREAM Act 21.) Deepak Barghava of the Center for Community Change speculated in a Politico article that introduction of the bill had been a failed attempt by Democrats at a bluff, but that Republicans "ate the Democrats' lunch," and voted for the bill even though Schumer had only introduced it a few hours before the vote. Politico reported that unnamed immigrant rights advocates said that passing a stand-alone border bill eliminated a bargaining chip for Democrats to pass comprehensive immigration reform. If so, this was a major tactical error by Schumer and shows how thoroughly outclassed he is by GOP Senators when it comes to immigration policy.

This is the latest in a string of piecemeal enforcement backed by Democrats without any expectation of any pro-migrant reform in return. Immigration Impact reported recently that the Democrats have now enacted the majority of the enforcement pieces of the failed 2007 comprehensive reform bill, while getting nothing in return for the immigrant community. Democrats have been the biggest facilitators of the current enforcement-only immigration policy regime, caving time after time to nativists in the GOP even though Democrats hold large majorities in both houses of Congress. These are not allies, they are "frenemies," friends to your face who stab you in the back as soon as you turn around.

If CCC and other national immigrant advocacy organizations are unhappy with Democrats right now, they have only themselves to blame for repeatedly enabling Democratic frenemies, from giving Deporter-in-Chief Obama an uncontested platform to deceive the immigrant community at the March 21 immigrant rights rally in Washington, D.C., to buying into Rahm Emanuel's poll-tested "tough on immigrants" talking points that reinforce conservative frames on immigration. Aside from recent movement from America's Voice to support standalone DREAM Act and challenge the Democrats, to me it's still an open question: Will D.C.-based immigrant rights organizations ever hold Democrats accountable for selling out the immigrant community?

And the next big question with this latest installment of enforcement-only legislation coming from Democrats in the Senate: Will the Congressional Hispanic Caucus follow the Senate's lead and support piecemeal enforcement-only reform while continuing to hold pro-migrant piecemeal legislation like the DREAM Act hostage to a nonexistent CIR bill?

So who are these Democratic frenemies, and what do they have against immigrants? Here is a short primer:

Grassley.jpgLate last week, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) released a draft internal immigration policy memo (pdf) that one or more anonymous anti-immigrant Department of Homeland Security employees had leaked to his office. Shortly before the leak of the draft memo from USCIS, the federal immigration agency which is part of DHS, Senator Grassley, along with seven other Republican Senators, had sent a letter to President Obama warning him against taking the kinds of actions outlined in the draft memo that would ameliorate some of the current unreasonably harsh immigration policies that separate families and punish children.

The policy changes would have:

  • Given DHS greater latitude to defer the deportation of undocumented youth brought here as children by their parents.
  • Eased interpretation of the current strict standard for showing that deportation of a parent, child, or spouse has caused "extreme hardship" to the remaining U.S. citizen family member. Currently, forced long-term (10 years or more) separation from one's spouse or child cannot be used as a factor in deciding whether "extreme hardship" exists.
  • Finalized the rules dealing with children who come to the U.S. alone, and for victims of human trafficking, domestic violence, and other criminal activities.
  • Permitted USCIS to exercise discretion to target criminals for deportation proceedings in line with ICE's stated enforcement priorities.

To me and others, these seem like common sense measures that should have been adopted long ago. To the anti-immigrant groups behind this manufactured scandal, the draft policy memo is the greatest outrage the world has ever known.

Senator Grassley is working closely with the nativist group NumbersUSA, a member of eugenicist John Tanton's network of anti-immigrant organizations, in an effort to use the leak of this draft policy memo to destroy any chance of immigration reform that remains this legislative session. The leak came just as Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) proposed a constitutional amendment to revoke birthright citizenship, which could lead to the deportation of citizen children of undocumented parents.

The leak of the draft memo, which was written in April, followed a letter in June from the same group of GOP Senators warning President Obama not to enact administrative reforms in lieu of comprehensive immigration reform. The release of the June letter shows that Grassley and NumbersUSA had the draft memo then and were holding on to it until its release would have maximum political impact.

The timing of the release, coming in the same week that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) met to discuss moving the DREAM Act forward separate from comprehensive immigration reform [Update: Reid's office is now denying that he discussed the DREAM Act with Pelosi at their meeting last week], the same week that communities around the country mobilized in opposition to SB1070, was no coincidence in my view. The leak was timed to derail the momentum the DREAM Act had gotten over months and years of organizing efforts by DREAMers, including a civil disobedience action in D.C. on July 20 where 21 undocumented youth risked deportation by being arrested in the Senate office buildings and an ongoing hunger strike now in its 12th day in California. The leak was designed to increase pressure on Obama to maintain existing federal SB1070-style programs like 287g that promote collaboration between local law enforcement and ICE and lead to racial profiling of brown-skinned people.

If this is the best attack the nativists can muster, if this is their "secret weapon" against the DREAM Act or any other legislative action on immigration, then I think the pro-migrant community is in good shape.