U.S. Immigration Reform: January 2011 Archives

obama shaking hands.jpg

Some readers may wonder why I have spent so much time writing about Barack Obama and his action or inaction on immigration reform.

For example:

Obama Resumes Deportations to Ravaged Haiti
Obama and Fox News Latino Can't Have It Both Ways On Immigration
Pedro Gutierrez Asks President Obama to Defer His Deportation
Obama Praises DREAM Act While Deporting Dreamers
Obama: Deporting Immigrants So Republicans Don't Have To

And I'm not the only one:

Buyer Beware! Obama: The Deporter and Job Killer in Chief
"Obama is not the answer because he IS the problem"
Man the Deportations: Full Speed Ahead!
Halfway Through Term, Obama Still Hasn't Earned His Nobel Prize
Heroes and Zeroes of Immigrant Rights in 2010

... and many others.

But isn't the president a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act?

Didn't his Department of Justice sue Arizona to prevent implementation of the SB1070 racial profiling law?

Wouldn't it make more sense to spend time and energy pushing Republicans to compromise, to punish them politically for opposing comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act? Hasn't the real struggle moved away from federal legislation to the state and local level?

I think these are questions worth discussing, but I still believe the best national focus for action to achieve immigrant rights objectives is President Obama.

Each national politician who voted against the DREAM Act should be held accountable for betraying migrant youth. And there is a lot of work--both on offense and on defense--to be done on the state and local level.

But the immigrant rights movement should not neglect federal politicians or the 2012 presidential campaign, which has already begun.

First, Obama can be moved politically. The GOP's incentives are more mixed, and on balance run against supporting fair immigration reform.

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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 explained the "pickle of epic proportions" that the administration was in:

Republicans would now cry foul if the administration eased up on deportations, he said. But Latinos are losing patience with a strategy that has led to pain without gain for their communities.

Nevertheless, according to the Post, the Obama administration is doubling down on its "enforcement-first" strategy, having "no plans to pull back on enforcement just because Republicans are unlikely to support a bipartisan overhaul of immigration laws in the next two years."

How did the Democrats' immigration reform strategy fail so thoroughly? What went wrong? And why is President Obama still committed to a failed strategy?

I haven't seen as much soul-searching, discussion, and fingerpointing within the immigrant rights movement as I expected after the 111th Congress ended with no measurable progress for the immigrant community in the U.S. Democrats spent the last two years claiming to be champions of the immigrant community but in the end accomplished nothing despite holding large majorities in both houses of Congress.

Since the DREAM Act was defeated in December, I haven't heard anything new from President Obama.

I haven't heard anything from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

From the Democratic leadership in the Senate.

From the Reform Immigration for America campaign.

From America's Voice or the National Immigration Forum.

From AILA.

Maybe I haven't been paying attention. Or maybe I haven't heard much that is new, something that doesn't replicate the failed strategy of the past several years.

I know some have been taking time to decompress after a fierce extended campaign. I know others have been depressed and unsure of what comes next.

I have to accept accountability for the current situation as well ... I've been working towards the goal of legalization for a few years with as little success as anyone else. And drifting from necessary introspection to counterproductive acrimony is a real danger.

But the silence right now is deafening.

Whatever happens going forward, the immigrant rights movement can't repeat the mistakes of the past several years. I hope that this silence from those who formulated and implemented the comprehensive immigration reform strategy represents a tacit acknowledgment that something went badly wrong. And that now it is time to listen to new voices and new ideas. I hope that conditions now are favorable for more vibrant discussions, more brainstorming, and more openness to new strategies.

I hope there is more space in this movement now for undocumented leadership, for leaders whose incentives, information, and experiences are more closely aligned with undocumented communities than current leadership. Leaders who would personally benefit from legalization will almost always fight harder than leaders who wouldn't.

I'll be writing more about this soon, but for now one of the few in-depth attempts to debrief I've seen so far in the new year is this one from Daniel Altschuler. Another is my co-blogger Kyle's recent post on priorities for 2011. Check them out, share your thoughts in comments here or at these posts. Write your own reaction and post the link in comments or email it to me or Kyle, or let us know about pieces you liked that we might have missed. Let's start talking.